While there have been major cuts to the food assistance programs over the last several months it seems that there may be a reprieve, at least to the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children otherwise known as WIC. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs the program, and they announced that under the new guidelines WIC expands access to fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the nearly nine million low-income families it serves. According to Reuters this overhaul will increase by 30 percent the allowance for each child’s fruit and vegetable purchase, roughly a $2 a month increase.
Fruits and vegetables are not the only changes that WIC participants will be seeing. The whole grain portion of the check is also receiving an overhaul, and will allow parents to substitute yogurt for partial milk. Moms of infants will also be given the option to substitute fresh fruits and vegetables for the baby food that they normally receive. State and local WIC agencies will also be given more leeway in selecting food options that better fit the nutritional and cultural needs of their beneficiaries.
Not everyone is happy with these updates however, white potatoes are still being excluded from the food lists, and this has growers particularly upset. The National Potato Council (NPC) has been lobbying the USDA since 2007, stating that potatoes are a great source of dietary fiber. The USDA ,while they acknowledge this, refuses to add potatoes to the list because they are often prepared in a way that increases their fat and calorie content. Even while these new guidelines expand what the WIC program offers low-income families, the USDA is adamant about excluding white potatoes.
The 2014 omnibus appropriations bill that helped the USDA receive more funding for WIC clearly stated that “all varieties of fresh, whole or cut vegetables” should be included. This made the decision to exclude white potatoes tricky, as it was seen by some to be an implicit endorsement of the potatoes. However, Kevin Concannon, the USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, stated that they had the science to back up the ban. He went on to say that the USDA has already responded directly to lawmakers who insisted that white potatoes be included in the WIC program, and that the USDA would request the Institute of Medicine (IOM) conduct a review of the nutritional values of all foods in the WIC packages starting next week. The IOM has already come out against the white potato, stating that the exclusion will force parents and children to consume other healthier vegetables.
The NPC says they will continue to lobby to get white potatoes included in WIC. Right now participants can purchase sweet potatoes, but not white or yellow potatoes. In a press release, Tom Vilsack, the agricultural secretary, stated that the updates to WIC food packages will make pivotal improvements to the program which will better meet the diverse nutritional needs of mothers and children. He goes on to say that WIC is made available so that every American child has the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong. The low-income families that receive WIC will benefit greatly from the expanded options made available through the USDA program according to Sam Kass the director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Initiative.”
By Rachel Woodruff