The WIC program is a federal grant program to 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the American Virgin Islands, and 34 Indian Tribal Organizations (Kresge, 2003). For convenience, the terms state agency or WIC state agency are used to refer to the entities administering the WIC program in these 89 locations. Working within federal regulations, the WIC state agencies oversee the targeted food assistance, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and health and social service referral program for eligible women, infants, and children. Eligibility for the WIC program requires meeting all three of the following requirements:
Categorical Eligibility—being a member of one of these groups: pregnant woman; breastfeeding woman up to 1 year postpartum; woman less than 6 months postpartum; infant age 0 through 11 months; or young child from age 1 through 4 years;
Income Eligibility—living in a family with any of the following characteristics—income at or below 185 percent of federal poverty guidelines or enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Stamp, or Medicaid programs (or other assistance program designated by the state of residence); and
Nutritional Risk—having at least one of an approved list of nutritional risk factors for a poor health outcome. Examples of nutritional risk include specific criteria for anemia, obesity, and underweight.
Those enrolled and participating in the WIC program (or their caregivers) receive the following: (1) supplemental food; (2) nutrition education; (3) breastfeeding support; and (4) referrals to health and social services, as applicable. Ideally, the supplemental food and nutrition education components complement each other. By law (U.S. Congress, Pub. L. No. 101-445, 1990), the Dietary Guidelines for Americans form the basis of federal food, nutrition education, and information programs. This means that both the food and nutrition education provided by the WIC program should be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines (see section on Nutrient Recommendations and Dietary Guidance Have Changed and Chapter 2—Nutrient and Food Priorities—for more information).