This post was written by Health Law and Policy Clinic student Ali Gentry, Harvard Law School ’23.
In early September, the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation joined the National WIC Association and the Vouchers 4 Veggies – EatSF program in organizing more than 100 organizations to call on Congress to ensure a robust benefit for purchasing fruits and vegetables in the WIC program. Weeks later, Congress heeded the call, including an increase in the value of the WIC Cash Value Voucher in the Continuing Resolution that funds government operations through December. The increase is an important temporary victory for families enrolled in the WIC program – but more advocacy is needed to maintain the increase beyond December of 2021.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk. Improved food security and increased produce intake during pregnancy leads to decreased pregnancy complications, improved childhood development, and decreased rates of chronic disease. As Black and Latinx pregnant people are two times more likely to experience food insecurity than White pregnant people, addressing food insecurity is an important step in reduce racial disparities in health outcomes for communities of color.
Although the evidence is clear that produce intake is critical to improving health outcomes across the lifespan, the WIC Cash Value Voucher (also called the Cash Value Benefit) only provides $9/month for children and $11/month for women for purchasing produce. The American Rescue Plan Act temporarily increased the cash-value voucher to $35 per month through September 2021.
According to recommendations put forth by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the voucher value should be $24/month for children, $43/month for pregnant and postpartum participants, and $47/month for breastfeeding participants for WIC participants to meet half of the recommended produce intake of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Increasing the value of the benefit is a cost-effective means of addressing health disparities; for people who do not meet the dietary recommendations, increasing produce consumption by one serving per day decreases mortality and could save the US up to $5 billion in medical costs annually.
On the evening of September 30, Congress passed HR 5305, extending the value increase of the WIC Cash Value Voucher through the first quarter of fiscal year 2022 and naming NASEM to determine the appropriate value. The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation called for the increase in value of the Cash Value Voucher in our March 2021 “Mainstreaming Produce Prescriptions” report. We are excited to see the momentum toward a long-term increase in the CVV’s dollar value and improved access to nutritious produce among children and their parents. We look forward to taking the next steps to ensure the increased benefit is maintained beyond December.