U.S. Families Are Facing a Crushing Loss of Fruit and Vegetable Benefits in WIC Program

Oct 19, 2023

Getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables can be a challenge, even when parents from all walks of life make the extra effort to encourage their children to embrace these nutritious options. Without congressional action, that challenge could potentially become even more difficult.

Indeed, rather than trying to expose children to these life-changing foods that make them healthier and reduce the chances of obesity and other chronic diseases, some lawmakers are considering slashing fruit and vegetable benefits. If the House Fiscal Year 2024 Agriculture Appropriations bill goes into effect, cash value benefits would be reduced by a staggering 56% for children and 70% for women.

One parent we spoke to in Ithaca, New York, said she relies on this assistance to get fresh produce to her toddler, and the reduction would “crush” her. “He loves produce, and I feel that it is perhaps the healthiest part of his diet,” she said. “With less money, I wouldn’t be able to feed him as well.”

The federal supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children – or WIC – has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades due to its reach in every community across the country. Its track record of producing positive health care outcomes for participants is evident. While the Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to maintain current funding levels, if the House proposal became law, children would receive just $11 each month to cover fruits and vegetables, down from $25 each month.

Such a cut would be unconscionable, as good nutrition is already an uphill battle. Nearly one in two children don’t eat a single vegetable each day, according to a report released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About a third of kids don’t eat any fruit in a given day. That same data shows that the percentage of children who didn’t eat fruit and vegetables was highest among minority families with limited access to fresh produce.

For those kids lacking access, it is crucial not to create additional barriers. Reducing benefits would only exacerbate the situation, especially with food inflation rising by more than 5% over the past year. Further, studies have found that healthier kids are better students, get better grades and attend class more often.

Instead, we should strive to increase benefits and improve access to nutritious options, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to lead a healthy, thriving life.

And it’s not just the kids who benefit. Increased spending power, in turn, helps farmers and communities across the country. When WIC participants utilize their full fruit and vegetable benefits, it can lift sales of produce by some $2 billion annually, according to our research, which then positively impacts growers and the local economies where these benefits are redeemed.

While we stand united in our concerns around these cuts, we ask Congress to consider the personal and profound reactions from WIC parents and grandparents when hearing about the possibility of losing access to fruits and vegetables this fall.

We talked to one family in Millfield, Ohio, who called fruit and vegetable benefits “life-changing,” and described how this has provided opportunities for kids to love produce, benefiting them in the future. A grandmother in Ridgeland, Mississippi, told us that cutting the benefit would mean her grandkids would not get the amount of produce recommended by doctors. Across the country in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, a mother told us that the benefit has been “life-saving,” and reducing it would take much-needed meals away from her son.

We cannot turn our backs on these children who rely on this benefit that has significantly increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, delivering on the federal government’s dietary recommendations.

Knowing the health, education and economic stakes here, investing in increased benefits for WIC is not just the right thing to do but also an investment in the country’s future. Congress must restore funding for WIC.

Our children deserve no less.

 By Kate Franken, Mollie Van Lieu, and Stephanie Johnson