Food Assistance:

Working Women's Access to WIC Benefits

RCED-98-19: Published: Oct 16, 1997. Publicly Released: Oct 16, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the extent to which Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program benefits are accessible to eligible working women, focusing on: (1) the actions taken by local WIC agencies to increase access to WIC benefits for working women; (2) asking the local WIC agency directors' opinions on the accessibility of their clinics; and (3) factors that limit program participation.

GAO noted that: (1) the directors of local WIC agencies have taken a variety of steps to improve access to WIC benefits for working women; (2) the two most frequently cited strategies are: (a) scheduling appointments instead of taking participants on a first-come, first-served basis; and (b) allowing a person other than the participant to pick up the food vouchers or checks, as well as nutrition information, and to pass these benefits on to the participant; (3) these strategies focus on reducing the amount of time at, or the number of visits to, the clinic; (4) although three-fourths of the local WIC agencies offer appointments during the lunch hour, only about one-tenth offer Saturday appointments, about one-fifth offer early morning appointments, and less than half offer evening appointments; (5) collectively, at least one-fourth of the participants do not have access to any clinic hours outside of the regular work day; (6) 76 percent of the directors of local WIC agencies believed that their clinics are reasonably accessible for working women; (7) in reaching this conclusion, the directors considered their hours of operation, the amount of time that participants wait for service, and the ease with which participants are able to get appointments at the desired time; (8) although most directors were generally satisfied with their clinics' accessibility and had made changes to improve access, 9 percent of the directors still rated accessibility as a problem; (9) 14 percent of the directors rated accessibility as neither easy nor difficult, and 1 percent responded that they are uncertain; (10) the directors of local WIC agencies identified several factors that limit WIC participation by working women; (11) the factors most frequently cited reflected the directors' perceptions of how women view the program; (12) specifically, the directors told GAO that women do not participate because they: (a) lose interest in the program as their income increases; (b) perceive a stigma attached to receiving WIC benefits; or (c) see the program as limited to those who do not work; and (13) directors less frequently identified other factors--such as the lack of adequate public transportation and long waits at clinics--as also limiting WIC participation by working women.

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