WIC Is Not SNAP, Also Lets Stop Infantilizing Poor People and Mothers

Photo from Morguefile

Photo from Morguefile

Today I read an article published on Slate about not being able to buy potatoes on foodstamps. At least that’s what the title said. After reading a paragraph it was clear that it was really about WIC benefits. After reading another, it was also clear that the author had not done proper research and in addition had a very patronizing view of both poverty and pregnant women. There are some serious misconceptions in the text that only serve to further demonize poverty.

The article, “Should Poor Pregnant Women Be Allowed To Buy Potatoes With Food Stamps? What A Dumb Question” is very much a clickbait title but with all the policing of food for recipients of SNAP (you bought a candy bar poor person? How dare you have luxuries on my tax dollars!) it was entirely possible that this was an issue for someone.

Only it wasn’t at all. The article is really speaking about the vegetable voucher that WIC participants are given as part of their monthly package. It allows participants to purchase certain vegetables however, potatoes are not one of them. Like every other WIC coupon, there are restrictions put on what you can and cannot get.

This is very different than foodstamps or SNAP. You can get whatever you want with SNAP barring things like alcoholic beverages and prepackaged lunchmeat.

There’s also the issue with the fact that WIC and SNAP are two different programs. The article uses these terms fairly interchangeably.

“But it’s hard to imagine a less efficient system than WIC, which gives pregnant women and mothers of young children vouchers or EBT cards that they can only use to buy a very restricted selection of foods.” L.V. Anderson wrote.

You do not get an EBT card with WIC. You get one with SNAP.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is intended to help provide assistance in purchasing food for lower income persons and families. Anyone who meets the income guidelines for SNAP is eligible. Recipients generally are at or below the poverty line with this program.

WIC is short for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. In order to receive benefits, you must be a woman who is pregnant or nursing or have an infant or child under the age of five years. It also has some income guidelines but a quick look at them shows that it accepts families well over the poverty line. This is not the case with SNAP.

The two programs are not even handled by the same governing body. At a Federal level, they both get funded by the Food and Nutrition Service in the US Department of Agriculture. However, once you get to the state level, where people actually access these benefits, SNAP is administered by the Department of Welfare where WIC is generally housed in the Department of Health.

This is because the aims of the program are drastically different. SNAP is to actually feed people. WIC is a supplement program designed to combat malnutrition in pregnant women, infants, and young children. Which is why their guidelines on what they supply are so much stricter.

The program isn’t meant to fill your cabinets, it’s meant to ensure that women, infants, and children have proper nutrition for growth and development.

Throughout this article, from the title to the very end there’s this focus on the “poor” mother but the truth is, with the WIC program you may see families from lower income to middle class. The income guidelines are inflated so that more families qualify. Unlike SNAP, WIC also has special exceptions in some states so women who do not meet the income guidelines may still be eligible.

The focus on poor women in this piece was actually just stereotyping recipients of these benefits and furthering the shame for people receiving them.

This article paints a picture of women who receive these benefits as uneducated, hormone clouded waifs who can’t handle reading labels. Which is further insulting as it’s not very hard to read a price tag and find the WIC symbol which is something that even the smallest corner store that takes WIC has readily available.

The smallest amount of research here would have shown this author that recipients don’t have to be dietitians to figure this out, they just have to read a price tag.

Even if that wasn’t the case, all WIC recipients are given a list of brands that are acceptable in the program. It’s a color pamphlet. As for sizes allowed, they’re listed very prominently on the front of the containers.

More importantly than that, the tone of this particular article is very condescending. These low income pregnant women can’t handle all of this stress! Reading a label is torture! Doing normal grocery shopping is something they are unaccustomed to!

And then article gives a brilliant idea. Why not just take the choice out of their hands and give them what we think they need in the style of a CSA box?

Only the thing about that is, that’s how the program started and unfortunately, most Americans don’t know what to do with a box full of strange vegetables. This program was discontinued and the voucher program was founded because it worked better. Although you do not have many choices on WIC, you do still have the option of picking from the eligible items what works best for you and your family. A CSA box does not afford you even that.

But then, the article provides this, “Give poor women the resources to educate themselves about prenatal nutrition, and then give them money to make their own decisions about what to buy.”

That is exactly what the WIC program does. They educate mothers on nutrition, both pre and post natal as well as provide information on things like portion sizes and breastfeeding support. WIC is first and foremost an educational program. Which the author of this article clearly is not aware of but should have been because it’s information displayed clearly on the website.

As for making their own decisions, during the growing seasons, WIC participants also receive vouchers to use at farmers markets and the like to purchase whatever fresh fruits and veggies they want.

Yes, even potatoes.

WIC is not SNAP. It is not foodstamps. It is not just for people living in poverty. It is a completely separate program with separate goals. Slate’s article perpetrates a continuing negative stereotype of poverty using inaccurate information which only serves to keep more families who may benefit from such a program from pursuing it instead causing them to think,it’s “for poor people” and to be poor is to be shamed.

Although this article seems to want to help, the tone and information given during it put it in a negative light. Such antiquated ideals surrounding government programs and the people who benefit from them must be stopped in order to make better programs.