Established in 1972 through an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, the WIC program has grown substantially and in 2001 served about 7.3 million participants each month (USDA, 2001d). The program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In fiscal year 2000, FNS provided cash grants totaling $4.1 billion to 88 state agencies (USDA, 2000a). State agencies include all 50 states, the 5 U.S. Territories (American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the American Virgin Islands), and 33 Indian Tribal Organizations. Together, state agencies administer the WIC program through approximately 2,000 local WIC agencies and 10,000 service sites (USDA, 2001b).

Unlike the Food Stamp or Medicaid Programs, WIC is not an entitlement program. Rather, it is a grant program for which funding limits are set annually by Congress. Like some other federal programs, WIC requires applicants to meet income and categorical criteria (in this case, pregnant, postpartum, or lactating women and children under the age of 5 years). WIC is unique, however, in that applicants also must be found to have a nutrition risk to be eligible for participation. Nutrition risk categories include anthropometric, biochemical, medical, and dietary risks, as well as some predisposing conditions (see Box 1-1

BOX 1-1 WIC Eligibility Requirements

Categorical Status

Applicants must fall into one of the following categories:


Pregnant or up to 6 weeks following the birth of an infant or at the end of the pregnancy

Postpartum (up to 6 months after the birth of the infant or the end of the pregnancy)

Breastfeeding (up to the infant’s first birthday)


Up to the infant’s first birthday


From first birthday up to the child’s fifth birthday

Income Level

Applicants must have an income level at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level or be adjunctively eligible through enrollment in Medicaid, temporary assistance to needy families, or the Food Stamp program


Applicants must live in the state in which they apply

Nutrition Risk

Applicants must be determined to be at nutrition risk (e.g., Anthropometric, Medical, Dietary, or Predisposing Conditions [see Box 1-3])

SOURCE: USDA (2001c).

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