by Marion Nestle
Apr 18 2009

USDA’s food assistance programs: 2008 report

The USDA has just published three new reports about food assistance.  The first is the 2008 annual report on these programs. The USDA spent nearly $61 billion of taxpayers’ money on food and nutrition assistance programs for low-income individuals and families last year, 11% more than in 2007.  Overall, 2008 was the eighth year in a row that the total amount spent on these programs set an all-time record.

WIC (Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children) is among the most important of these programs.  Even though it is not an entitlement and serves only about half of the women and children who are eligible for benefits, its enrollments are astonishing.  About half of all of the infants in the U.S. are enrolled in it as are about one quarter of all children 1 to 4 years old.

Rates of obesity are higher among children enrolled in WIC than they are in comparable populations.  Does this mean that WIC promotes obesity in low-income children?  The evidence suggests not, but Mexican-American participants have especially high rates of obesity.

I’m still trying to get my head around what it means that half of U.S. infants are born into families so poor that they are eligible for WIC benefits.  Even so, these are just the infants whose families get into the program.  What about all the ones who are eligible but can’t get in because all the places are filled?  Most children born in America are poor?  Isn’t something wrong with this picture?  And what can be done about it?

  • tmana

    The answer to the association of obesity with WIC-receiving women and children can be found in the specific products which are WIC-eligible and which are available in lower-income supermarkets. We are talking about white bread, but not whole wheat (which is not stocked at any rate); full-fat, high-sodium cheeses and cheese products emulsified with transfats. Brands that rely on transfats and high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, and lots and lots of salt. We are talking about milk and eggs on the virge of their expiry dates (and that’s only when the store remembers to rotate stock)…

    Fruits and vegetables are not on this list. (Dry beans are, thankfully.) Baking goods are not on the list, but bakery products are.

    In short, this program incentivizes low-income women to overconsume foods for which we would normally suggest moderation, and underconsume foods we would consider healthy…

  • Marion
    Yesterday was my first encounter with the police after about six solid years of dumpster food-stealing. Er, sorry, liberating.
    I knew it would finally happen, and I had my answer (oddly, the nice fellow asked ‘can I help you?’ so I said sure, here, hold this–and this–and that…” and he politely declined, saying “there’s a reason for that stuff being in there”.
    I said right, the expiration date, but it’s perfectly fine nutrition, and I’m rescuing it…
    He had me climb out and give all my info since of course on a bike one isnn’t obligated to produce I.D. (yet).
    Luckily no ticket, but went home, looked up food stamps and learned that my hubby and I don’t qualify even though each of us makes under 10 k a year in the richest county in the US.
    So I will just change my source for a while..but I feel deeply that
    if supermarkets are permitted to hurl good organic produce , etc.
    those poor kids on programs that let them have lowquality donations or bulk USDA junk are never going to know what a really good vegetable soup tastes like.
    But I’m too tired to do more than be yr fan, and continue thieving the good stuff before it’s put in the landfill.
    Alice B. Toeclips
    Salivation Army

  • Pingback: Food Politics » USDA’s food assistance programs: 2008 report « Courtney’s Blog()

  • WIC foods, they’re very limited:
    Infant Formula (concentrated liquid)
    Juice (reconstituted frozen)
    Infant Cereal
    Dried Beans/Peas
    Peanut butter
    Tuna (canned)

    States may add other foods. “Although Federal regulations specify the minimum nutritional requirements for the WIC foods, WIC State agencies are responsible for deciding which brands and types of allowable products they wish to include on their State WIC food lists. State agencies are not obligated to authorize every available food that meets WIC requirements. State agency decisions may be influenced by the following factors: cost, product distribution within a State, participant acceptance, and administrative feasibility. Because WIC-eligible foods vary from state to state, there is no consolidated list available.”

    It’s nice that farmer’s markets are eligible to participate:

  • Natalie

    I am skeptical of the assertion that half of America’s infants are on WIC, however, if it is true, I would say that is due to the ease with which one can attain WIC. I have been through the process myself, and know that one needn’t be poor, necessarily. The income restrictions are much higher for food stamps, for example. Being unmarried helps, as one can claim a single income regardless of the presence of other paying adults in the household.