November 23, 2021

Gillibrand Bill Modernizes WIC Program And Makes Families First Coronavirus Response Act Waivers Permanent

MODERN WIC Act Would Invest $60 Million to Modernize and Increase Access to Critical Safety Net Program; Remote Services Implemented During Pandemic Removed Barriers to WIC Benefits and Helped Increase Child Retention; Bill Would Make Changes Permanent

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Senator Roger Marshall, introduced the bipartisan More Options to Develop and Enhance Remote Nutrition in WIC Act (MODERN WIC) to make WIC more accessible to low-income families and help ensure more applicants receive needed benefits by allowing them to certify and recertify for WIC services remotely. In the first year of the pandemic alone, WIC providers reported a 2.5% increase in WIC participation and more low-income households continue relying on this social safety net to feed themselves and their families. To keep up with the growing need, Gillibrand’s bill would invest $60 million to modernize the critical safety net program and codify two waivers granted through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that simplified user access to WIC benefits throughout the pandemic by offering remote services. Currently, the two waivers are in place until the Public Health Emergency status is set to expire on January 16, 2022.

“Bringing the WIC program into the 21st century will make these essential benefits more accessible than ever before,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Something as simple as loading a WIC EBT card should be easy and flexible, and should never be a roadblock that keeps families from putting food on the table. The MODERN WIC Act would provide the investments and upgrades needed so that all children and infants can have a healthy start to life.”

“I am excited to partner with Senator Gillibrand on the MODERN WIC Act,” said Senator Marshall. “I’ve seen firsthand the benefits WIC brings to mothers and their children, heightening access and efficiency to the WIC program for American families is a common-sense solution in a post-pandemic world.”

“Remote WIC services implemented during COVID-19 removed the most persistent barriers to ongoing participation and resulted in sharp increases in child retention. The MODERN WIC Act is transformative legislation that smartly incorporates lessons learned during COVID-19 to build stronger, more inclusive WIC services,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association. “The MODERN WIC Act lays out a measured approach to preserve flexible appointment structures while bolstering WIC’s public health character by ensuring ongoing health assessments and promoting coordination with physicians. WIC families should be given the same options available in healthcare settings, including online applications and telehealth appointments. As Congress considers Child Nutrition Reauthorization, we thank Senators Gillibrand and Marshall for their leadership in spearheading this urgent effort to chart a course for modern, 21st-century WIC services.”

Our goal is to best serve moms, babies and young children, and The MODERN WIC Act is an important step to allow us to connect families as effectively as possible with WIC’s nutrition support,” said Lauren Brand, Chair of the WIC Association of NYS. “We know from decades of research findings both that WIC improves child health outcomes, and that out-dated technology and regulations have been long-standing barriers to WIC access and retention. Local WIC agencies have worked hard to serve nearly 370,000 New Yorkers every month throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis, and our participation has strengthened, thanks to USDA waivers allowing remote services. WIC will return to in-office options after the national emergency health crisis, but as overdue advances in telehealth have made clear from lessons learned during the pandemic, video and telephone certifications should be allowed and equipped to continue. The MODERN WIC Act honors WIC’s public health mission and, as our nation’s premiere maternal and child health nutrition program, help WIC clinics rise to healthcare industry standards be 21st Century patient-centered and better serve this generation’s parents.”  

“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and our members support improving health and reducing food insecurity for pregnant people, new mothers and their children,” said Kevin L. Sauer, registered dietitian nutritionist and the Academy’s 2021-2022 President. “The Academy thanks U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Roger Marshall (Kan.) for introducing the MODERN WIC Act, which capitalizes on lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and will provide flexibility for WIC participants to use remote certification and ensure all eligible mothers and children can access this important program.”

We are grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in introducing The MODERN WIC Act,” said Andres Vives, Executive Director of Hunger Solutions New York. “This legislation equips our nation’s premiere maternal and child health nutrition program to be technologically responsive and attentive to the needs of today’s families. WIC currently serves less than 50 percent of potentially eligible moms, babies, and children here in New York, and the MODERN WIC ACT will help more eligible families to get the benefits and food they need to thrive.”

Now more than ever, improvements made to the WIC program during the COVID-19 pandemic should be made permanent. Remote WIC services implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic helped remove common barriers to participation, helping to significantly increase child retention. Specifically, the two waivers proposed to be codified in this bill would:

  • Waiver 1: Allow participants to get WIC certification or re-certification through video teleconference or phone;
  • Wavier 2: Allow participants to receive their WIC benefits on WIC EBT cards through mail or remote issuance, as opposed to physically picking up or reloading benefits in person at a WIC office.

In addition to codifying these two waivers, the MODERN WIC Act would provide $60 million in funding for WIC offices around the country to upgrade and establish technology to help streamline these changes to the program. The bill also requires the Secretary of Agriculture to submit a report to Congress outlining the uses of remote technologies, impact of remote technologies, and best practices.

This legislation is endorsed by the National WIC Association, 1,000 Days, A Better Balance, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Alliance to End Hunger, the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists, Bread for the World, Danone North America, First Focus Campaign for Children, FMI – The Food Industry Association, Hunger Solutions NY, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the National Grocers Association, the Nurse-Family Partnership, RESULTS, Save the Children, Save the Children Action Network (SCAN), the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior, and the WIC Association of New York State.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.

In addition to MODERN WIC Act, Senators Gillibrand and Marshall introduced the WIC Healthy Beginnings Act to promote competition and quality for infant formula manufacturers by creating an online database to centralize state solicitations. The database would be administered through USDA and would help streamline bids from formula manufacturers to state WIC programs. Currently, an infant formula manufacturer would have to sift through all contract solicitations in all 50 states in order to make bids. This legislation will increase transparency in the solicitation bid process and help prevent disruptions in getting essential nutrition to children and infants.

During the height of the pandemic, 1 in 5 parents nationwide did not have enough money to feed their children. To help keep families fed, Senator Gillibrand successfully led a push for $6 billion in funding for WIC -- including $90 million to continue WIC’s highly successful Breastfeeding Peer Counselor program, which provides vital peer-to-peer support, especially in underserved areas, and $14 million for program infrastructure. Gillibrand also successfully fought for the inclusion of an emergency increase in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Cash-Value Benefit in the American Rescue Plan, which more than doubled benefits for participating women and children. In March of this year, Gillibrand led a bicameral push from over 135 members of Congress, urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to review and increase the value of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food packages in order to reflect a modern, healthy diet. Gillibrand also leads the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program annual appropriations letters every year and is a major anti-hunger champion.