Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Buying Wisely and Well: Managing WIC Food Costs While Improving the WIC Customer’s Shopping Experience by Alice Ammerman, Molly De Marco, Matthew Harding, Terry Hartman, and Jewels Rhode
In July 2015, the BECR Center hosted a roundtable to discuss exploratory and innovative behavioral economics strategies that might be useful in helping the WIC Program manage food costs without adversely impacting participant redemptions, program satisfaction, and participation. This brief provides a summary of the discussion that took place during the meeting, based on five white papers funded by the BECR Center as well as the accompanying discussion.
WIC provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and referrals to health care and other social services to low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age. This report explains how WIC works, examines program trends, describes some of the lesser known effects of WIC, and discusses some of the major economic issues facing the program.
In FY2012, over three-fourths of WIC retail food benefits were redeemed at large (supercenter, supermarket, large grocery) stores. Although WIC may not encourage participants to be price sensitive, the many redemptions at large stores may be due to the 63-percent share of WIC vendors that are large stores and participants’ tendency to shop for WIC foods at the same stores where they shop anyway.
WIC Households’ Food Purchases Using WIC Benefits and Paying Out of Pocket: A Case Study of Cold Cereal Purchases by Diansheng Dong, Hayden Stewart, Elizabeth Frazão, Andrea Carlson, and Jeffrey Hyman
WIC households incur no cost for WIC-approved foods, and economic theory suggests they may be less sensitive to prices when using WIC benefits than when paying out of pocket. ERS examines this assumption in a case study of WIC households’ choices in purchasing cold cereals.
Assessment of WIC Cost-Containment Practices: Final Report by John A. Kirlin, Nancy Cole, and Christopher Logan
Based on a review of cost-containment practices in six States, including interviews with the various stakeholders and analysis of WIC administrative files, the study draws three major conclusions: (1) cost-containment practices reduced average food package costs by 0.2 to 21.4 percent, depending on practices implemented and local conditions; (2) the cost-containment practices had few adverse outcomes for WIC participants; and (3) administrative costs of the practices were low, averaging about 1.5 percent of food package savings.
More information and resources are available at the USDA’s WICWorks.