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WIC Food Packages: Time for a Change
packages is less sensitive to changes in price for these two food components. The greater diversity of food items included in the revised food packages will tend to reduce the sensitivity of the food package cost to a change in the price of any single food item.
The revised food packages are cost-neutral. Using identical methods to estimate the average cost per participant of the current and revised WIC food packages, the committee found essentially no change. In particular, the estimated average 2002 cost per participant for the current set of food packages was $34.76 per month, and for the set of revised food packages was $34.57 per month (and in the range of $34.03–$34.95), approximately equal to the estimated cost of the current package. Thus, given the same methods and prices for comparison, and assuming no shifts in participation by program categories, the changes proposed are likely to have little effect on program food costs. Furthermore, compared to the cost of the current food packages, the cost of the revised food packages would change less in response to changes in the costs of dairy products and infant formula.
The changes in the food packages greatly increase the relative market value (i.e., pre-rebate price) of the combined packages for the fully breastfeeding mother/infant pair; this change in the set of revised food packages could serve as an increased incentive for breastfeeding.
The costing method used includes a cash-value voucher that can be used to obtain a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables of the participants’ choosing; the addition of the cash-value voucher could increase the cultural acceptability of the WIC food packages. Because an increase in the cost of fresh produce would lead to a reduced amount of fruits and vegetables that could be obtained with the cash-value voucher and this, in turn, would reduce the nutrient content of the packages, the committee recommends review and revision of the total value of the cash-value vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables every 1 to 3 years.
The cost evaluation of the revised food packages encompassed major changes directed toward allowing healthier choices (e.g., the addition of fruits and vegetables, reduced-fat rather than whole milk for participants 2 years of age and older; allowed breakfast cereals are whole grain). These changes could serve to improve the diets of WIC participants. The cost evaluation also included specific amounts of substitutions that were requested by participants (e.g., allowing yogurt, tofu, and soy beverage [“soy milk”] as a substitute for milk); these substitutions could increase the incentive value of the food packages for families to participate in the WIC program.