Food Assistance:

A Variety of Practices May Lower the Costs of WIC

RCED-97-225: Published: Sep 17, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed cost containment initiatives states are using to control the cost of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), focusing on the practices that the states use to: (1) contain costs by controlling the foods approved for use in the WIC program and by more closely selecting and regulating participating vendors; and (2) ensure that WIC applicants' incomes meet the program's eligibility requirements.

GAO noted that: (1) the states are using a variety of cost containment initiatives to control the WIC program's costs; (2) for example, 10 states have contracted with manufacturers to obtain rebates on WIC foods in addition to infant formula, and some states have placed greater limits on WIC participants' food choices than other states; (3) separately, or in conjunction with efforts to contain food costs, 39 states use various practices to restrict the number of vendors or ensure that the prices vendors charge for WIC food items are competitive; (4) these and other practices to contain food costs have saved millions of dollars annually and enabled more individuals to enroll in the program, according to WIC directors; (5) while the use of cost containment practices could be expanded, certain obstacles, including the states' concern with how the program allocates the additional funds made available through cost containment initiatives, may discourage the states from adopting or expanding their use; (6) federal regulations provide that WIC program applicants who participate in the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program automatically meet the income eligibility requirements of the WIC program; (7) the states use a variety of procedures to certify the income eligibility of the applicants who do not participate in these programs; (8) thirty-two of the 48 state WIC directors responding to GAO's questionnaire reported that their states generally require these applicants to provide documents, such as pay stubs and letters, to verify their income; (9) of the remaining 16 WIC directors, 14 reported that their states do not require documentation; (10) these states allow applicants to declare their income without providing supporting documentation; and (11) the other two directors reported that income documentation procedures are determined individually by the local WIC agencies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FNS has issued a policy memorandum requiring States to ensure that participants provide evidence of residency and identification at certification and when they receive food or food instruments.

    Recommendation: To encourage further implementation of WIC cost containment initiatives, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food and Consumer Service (FCS) to work with the states to identify and implement strategies, including policy and regulatory and legislative revisions, to reduce or eliminate the obstacles that may discourage such initiatives. These strategies could include modifying policies and procedures that allow the states to use cost containment savings for the program's support services and establishing regulatory guidelines for selecting vendors to participate in the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USDA's Food and Nutrition Service issued an Interim Rule in the Federal Register on January 21, 2000, amending WIC regulations that requires WIC applicants, among other things, to present proof of residency as part of the state agency's system to prevent dual participation, and to physically present themselves at certification.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator, FCS, to take the necessary steps to ensure that the state agencies are requiring participants to provide evidence that they reside in the states where they receive WIC benefits and to provide identification when their eligibility is certified and when they receive food or food vouchers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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