by Marion Nestle
May 6 2014

Hot potato: congress micromanages WIC package

You would think that excluding white potatoes in the WIC package (because evidence shows that WIC participants already eat plenty of white potatoes) would be small potatoes, but not to the Maine potato lobby.

It has induced Congress to intervene on behalf of Maine potatoes.  And, according to Politico it seems to have the votes.

As I’ve said in a couple of earlier posts, this looks to me like Congressional unraveling of nutritional gains for the WIC program.

Rumors say that Republican congressional staff have told WIC officials that Congress intends to go after the program just as it went after SNAP, and that this time WIC “won’t get off easy.”

WIC is demonstrably successful in improving the nutritional status of participating women, infants, and children.

The WIC package—the foods that are eligible to be purchased with WIC vouchers—is based on science-based recommendations of the Institute of Medicine.

Politico quotes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

Members of Congress often say they want poverty programs to be more effective…Here, they are taking what’s widely agreed to be one of the most effective programs and making it less effective in order to serve parochial interests…If Congress begins mandating what foods to include and exclude in WIC irrespective of the scientific findings…the floodgates will be open in the years ahead for other legislators to demand inclusion of other products that their states produce and that may generate substantial campaign contributions.

How about writing your congressional representatives and telling them to maintain the integrity of the WIC program.  If your representatives heard from enough constituents about this issue, they might not vote for it.

Even a quick e-mail would help.

Addition: Here’s the letter from senators to USDA Secretary Vilsack.

  • Dexter

    The unspoken problem with WIC is not whether white potatoes are trendy enough to feed poor people. The real problem is all these poverty stricken women having all these infants and children all the time. I don’t know if these young women are already getting “plenty of white potatoes” or not but they certainly are getting far too much of what makes babies. I suggest we keep the ban on white potatoes in WIC but include in the shopping cart a roll of duct tape each month instead. If these fecund girls would just keep their knees duct taped together it would save all of us a lot of trouble and expense. Of course, this wouldn’t help Maine potato farmers but it wouldn’t harm them either.

  • Marbs

    Wow, that is really ugly, Dexter.

  • dwell

    In response to Dexter below, one of the biggest issues with WIC is the perception that it is for the “poverty stricken”. I’m 9 months pregnant and on WIC now. I’m a professional with a bachelors degree, but my husband is out of work. We just qualify for WIC and it has been a huge help for our budget with my increased appetite while pregnant.

    We are not really poor, though things are tight. We are not particularly young either and this is the first child for both of us. Not running rampant with a house full of mouths to feed. We’re looking forward to being parents.

    I’ve had such a positive experience with all the WIC staff and even been able to take advantage of a consultation with a lactation consultant. My only regret is that I feel ashamed to let others know that I’m participating because of judgement like Dexters.

  • Mitchell Alexander

    I don’t understand why there would be a ban on white potatoes. There isn’t really anything wrong with potatoes. They’re a whole food that is quite versatile and healthy The fact that they’re micro-managing the foods to this level is quite ridiculous.

  • Mel

    This is what happens when you have government giveaway programs. All these insignificant little details become fodder for opinionated manipulators. In this instance some puckerbutt activist gripes about white potatoes (of all things!), makes a big fuss, gins up some good mob hysteria to get these horribly dreadful potatoes banned from the WIC…then, of course Maine potato farmers take umbrage when their honest wholesome product is unfairly singled out and maligned. We should stop government giveaways altogether. Let the nitpickers and snipers vent their mundane superstitions upon each other instead. Actually we should have government programs to pit silly superficial activists against each other in some public venue. I’d gladly hand over a couple tax dollars a week to watch that dogfight.

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  • What potato truck did you fall off Marion? Congress already has special interest groups who demand they be heard – try LOBBYISTS – the floodgates have been open for decades. I intend on writing my Congressman and telling him to dismantle the WIC program and institute the work your a** off like other people and earn money to buy food program. Or do you have a problem with that?