Food Assistance:

WIC Program Issues

T-RCED-98-125: Published: Mar 17, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 17, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its three recently completed reviews of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), focusing on: (1) the reasons that states had for not spending all of their federal grant funds; (2) efforts of WIC agencies to improve access to WIC benefits for working women; and (3) various practices states use to lower the costs of WIC and ensure that the incomes of WIC applicants' meet the program's eligibility requirements for participation.

GAO noted that: (1) states had unspent WIC funds for a variety of reasons; (2) in fiscal year 1996, these funds totalled about $121.6 million, or about 3.3 percent of that year's $3.7 billion WIC grants; (3) some of these reasons were associated with the way WIC is structured; (4) virtually all the directors of local WIC agencies report that their clinics have taken steps to improve access to WIC benefits for working women; (5) 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, as well as nutrition information, and to pass these benefits on to the participant; (6) the states are using a variety of cost containment initiatives that have saved millions of dollars annually for WIC and enabled more individuals to participate in the program; and (7) some of these initiatives include obtaining rebates on WIC foods, limiting participants' food choices to lowest-cost items, and limiting the number of stores that participate in WIC.

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