Van Hollen, Gillibrand, Murkowski, Moore and Young Urge Usda to Update Special Supplemental Nutrition Program Food Packages for Women, Infants and Children (Wic) and Ensure Access to Healthy Foods for low income families

March 03, 2022

As food prices rise, families continue to depend on WIC to put food on the table; Proposed rule increases access to healthy food for low-income women and children

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.) and Reps. Don Young (R-Ark.-At Large) and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.-4) sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack publish the proposed rule, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children: WIC Food Package Revisions. WIC is one of the nation’s most successful federally-funded nutrition programs, improving food and health outcomes for approximately 6 million pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children through 5 years old. The letter also urges the secretary to ensure the proposed rule revises WIC food packages align with National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) dietary recommendations by allowing recipients to purchase more low-mercury fruits, vegetables, and seafood and mandating stricter standards for whole grains, sugar content, calcium and protein.

The letter was led by Senators Gillibrand and Murkowski in the Senate and Representatives Moore and Young in the House. In addition to Senator Van Hollen, he was also signed by Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), Raphael Warnock (D- Ga.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Booker (DN.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore. ), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Angus King (I-ME), Jack Reed (DR.I.), Bob Menendez (DN.J.), Maggie Hassan (DN.H.), Ben Ray Luján ( DN .M.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) and Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.-1), Jake Auchincloss (D – Mass.-4), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas-18), Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.-10), Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.-20), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.-3) , Ed Case (D-Hawaii-1), Kim Schri er (D-Wash.-8), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.-2), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.-6), Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), Salud Carbajal (D- Calif. -24), Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.-10), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.-29), Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-2), Marc Veasey (D-Texas-33), Nikema Williams ( D-Ga.-5), Joseph Morelle (DN.Y.-25), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.-12), Grace Meng (DN.Y.-6), Jason Crow (D-Colo.-6 ), David Cicilline (DR.I.-1), J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.-46), Peter Welch (D-Vt.-At Large), Alma Adams (DN.C.-12), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine-1), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.-11), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.-6), John Katko (RN.Y.-24), Mike Levin (D-Calif.- 49), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.-3), Jackie Speier (D-Calif.-14), Jesús García (D-Ill.-4), Andy Kim (DN.J.-3), Ro Khanna ( D-Calif.-17), Danny Davis (D-Ill.-7), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.-5), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.-2), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.-34 ), William Keating (D-Mass.-9), Chris Pappas (DN.H.-1), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.-9), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.-1), Anna Eshoo (D -California-18), Melanie Stansbury (DN.M.-1), Yvette Clarke (DN.Y.-9), Ami Bera (D-Calif.-7), Frederica Wilson (D-Fl.-24) , Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore. -1), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.-47), Katie Porter (D-Calif.-45), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.-At-large), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.-40), Lucy McBath (D-Ga.-6), Norma Torres (D-Calif.-35), James McGovern (D-Mass.-2), Thomas Suozzi (DN.Y.-3), Ann Kuster (DN.H. -2), Al Lawson (D-Fl.-5), Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona-7), Conor Lamb (D-Pa.-17), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.- 44), Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona-3), John Larson (D-Conn.-1), Judy Chu (D-Calif.-27), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona-2), Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.-14) , Marie Newman (D-Ill.-3), Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.-15), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.-4), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio-9), Mark Takano (D-Calif .-41), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.-5), Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.-5), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.-32), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.-51), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.-5), Frank Pallone (DN.J.-6), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.-4), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.-53), and Stacey Plaskett (D-Virg in Islands-At-Large).

The full text of the letter is available here or below:

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

Thank you for your continued work to address nutritional insecurity and improve access to nutritious foods as a means of improving long-term health outcomes, including through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and children (WIC). As one of the nation’s largest food assistance programs, with the highest nutrition standards across all federal programs, WIC is a proven and effective nutrition intervention that improves food and health outcomes for 6.1 million pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5.

To further increase WIC participants’ access to healthy foods, we urge the Department to take prompt action to release the proposed rule, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children: WIC Food Package Revisions , to publish revised WIC foods. packages that are based on recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). We are disappointed that the proposed rule has now been delayed twice from the scheduled August and December 2021 release dates.

The last review of WIC food packaging was in 2009 and significantly changed the WIC foods available to align with Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) eating habits. The 2009 revisions introduced fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to WIC food packaging, resulting in improved diet quality and variety, especially for children. Healthier options provided by WIC led to better health outcomes, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) measuring an overall reduction in childhood obesity among toddlers enrolled in WIC after 2009 reviews of the food package. We believe that the upcoming proposed rule, if based on NASEM’s recommendations, will bring additional significant improvements for vulnerable women and children in our nation.

As required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Children Act of 2010, WIC food packaging was reviewed by an independent panel of experts from NASEM, which released its final report in 2017. The USDA took a positive step to ensure that the 2020-2025 DGAs are largely in line with NASEM recommendations. However, the NASEM panel was commissioned by the USDA to develop cost-neutral recommendations. In its report, NASEM noted that funding constraints particularly limited their ability to recommend amounts of fruits, vegetables, and seafood at levels that would best align WIC participants’ diets with the best scientific evidence. and recommendations from organizations such as the World Health Organization.

We note that in recent years, current food parcel regulations have limited WIC recipients from purchasing food in the quantities and variety provided by the credits provided for the program. In the fiscal year 2021 omnibus legislation, for example, $1.25 billion of unspent food funding for fiscal year 2020 was returned to the treasury.

For these reasons, we therefore urge the USDA to enact regulations that include the issuance of benefits that will incorporate low-mercury fruits, vegetables, and seafood at amounts above the neutral recommendations in terms of NASEM costs in a manner consistent with the scientific basis of the NASEM review.

Specifically, we urge you to ensure that the proposed new rule includes: increased benefits for fruits and vegetables; increasing low-mercury seafood options as a separate food category in children’s and adult food packages on a monthly basis without rotational substitution with legumes and peanut butter; additional package size options, especially for yogurt and cereal; an additional substitution model, including the option for parents to buy fresh fruit and vegetables instead of jarred baby food to promote greater choice for parents; and stricter standards for whole grains, sugar content, calcium and protein so that WIC-approved foods help WIC families meet DGA-recommended diets.

With rising food prices, many families are more dependent than ever on the WIC and other federal nutrition programs to put healthy foods on the table. More children are benefiting from WIC, with a 7.5% national increase in child participation since the start of the pandemic. The full 2017 NASEM report is a solid foundation for additional actions the USDA can take to improve the nutritional value of WIC food packaging by increasing regular access to healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat fish. in mercury to promote even more advanced diets. aligned with NASEM and DGA recommendations.

We urge the USDA to move quickly to enact a proposed rule that will improve the health of low-income women and children. We appreciate your timely attention to our request.


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