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Estimating Eligibility and Participation for the WIC Program: Phase I Report
process for WIC is not as burdensome as the income verification process for food stamps. WIC does not have an asset test, but the Food Stamp Program does. Citizenship is not a requirement for WIC but it is for the Food Stamp Program. WIC considers only gross income, while the Food Stamp Program also considers net income after certain allowable deductions. WIC and the Food Stamp Program also have very different practices about the length of time a participant is certified as eligible, income verification, and definitions of economic units. Unlike the Food Stamp Program, the WIC program requires that nutritional risk of all applicants be assessed, which is often a lengthy process. WIC program benefits are quite different from food stamp benefits. The total value of food benefits are smaller for WIC.1 Only specific foods may be purchased with WIC food instruments, while there are very few restrictions on the types of foods that can be purchased with food stamps. The WIC program encourages all participants or their caregivers to have at least two nutrition education contacts during the certification period; the Food Stamp Program does not. It is also likely that WIC participation does not carry the same stigma that food stamp participation does, because WIC has the specific nutritional component that enables a mother to “do the right thing” and provide proper nutrition to her children. Finally, for WIC, each state has a yearly food expenditure goal and must meet at least 97 percent of its food grant or face penalties in the form of reduced funding for the next year. Thus, over the very short run, WIC participation is somewhat constrained. Each of these differences in the eligibility rules, benefit levels, purposes, and possible stigmas of the programs is likely to have differential effects on an individual’s decisions to participate.
Conclusion: Use of food stamp participation rates as a proxy for WIC participation rates is inappropriate because the program rules and goals, populations targeted, benefits provided, and public stigmas of these programs are sufficiently different that participation decisions for the program are also likely to be quite different.
Recommendation: The panel recommends that alternative methods for estimating WIC participation rates be examined. In addition, fur-
In fiscal year 1998, the average monthly WIC benefit over all participants was equivalent to $47 while the average monthly food stamp benefit in fiscal year 1998 was $165.