My thoughts on WIC…

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My family of 5 receives WIC benefits.  We love the WIC program, and we depend on our WIC benefits.  However, did you know pulling out my WIC card makes people treat me completely differently ALL THE TIME?  Cashiers and other customers in line immediately make incorrect assumptions about me and my family.  I don’t even use my WIC card sometimes because I am so embarrassed and dread the way I will be treated.  It is totally ridiculous and I have decided it is time to share my thoughts on WIC!

If you are unfamiliar with the WIC program, it stands for Women, Infants & Children and is a federal assistance program for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five.  The most well-known part of the program is the food benefits.  Families receive free milk, cheese, bread, eggs and other items depending on the size and needs of the family.  This program is so much more than just free food though.  Participants also get extra health and nutrition screenings.  Mothers take part in training in nutrition and meal planning.  WIC can also provide support with breastfeeding, give out nursing bras, breast pumps and even refer mothers to other programs like how to quit smoking.

In order to qualify, you must have a family income below 185% of the federal poverty line.  What does that income look like?  It is surprisingly easy to fit into this category.  Check out the chart below….

My family of 5 could make up to $53,243 per year.  This may not sound like much to some people, but two adults working many full-time jobs would earn below this amount.  The most recent data I could find (from 2014) said that of the 15 million people eligible for WIC, only 55% used the program.  Here is another chart comparing eligibility and participation in the program:

I’m not sure why  45% of those people chose to decline free groceries and the other benefits.  Maybe they don’t even know they are eligible.  Or maybe they don’t want to participate in a program where people will view them in a negative way, or treat them differently.  What do I mean by this?  Let me give you a few examples…

Note- These are my personal experiences, but I have heard similar stories from MANY families that use WIC.

Assumption #1: I don’t know math

I have a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a masters degree in education.  I’m smart. I’m good with money.  I know how to add.  I know how to add so well that I discovered the cost of daycare was more than my income as a teacher and that we save money by me not working.  (You can read a full post about Why I can’t afford to be a full-time teacher) However, people automatically assume I’m dumb and bad at math the second I pull out my WIC card to get my free milk.

A few weeks ago a bought milk (which is free) and a pack of cookies (how dare I buy cookies when I am so poor!!).  My total before using WIC came to about $4.00.  I had a coupon for $2.00 off my purchase of cookies.  After scanning my WIC card and coupon I owed $2.00.  I know enough math to know that $4 minus $2.00 for milk minus $2.00 for cookies plus tax should leave me with almost nothing to pay.  When I pointed this out to the cashier they called a manager over who could not understand my reasoning.  She kept trying to tell me I was wrong and that I just didn’t understand how the coupons work.  Finally, she gave up and said she would just give me the cookies.  She also added that I shouldn’t expect to get free items next time I use WIC!!

Fun fact– Did you know that over 60% of WIC participants have 12 or more years of education?


Assumption #2: Poor people don’t deserve yummy food.

In the example above, I definitely got the impression the cashier and manager thought I was wasting my money (and their time) trying to buy cookies.  EVERY time I use my WIC card and buy something that is not 100% nutritional I get eye rolls and dirty looks from cashiers and people in line.  People never say anything outright, but you can just feel their disgust.  I try not to let it bother me.  Deep down I know, (and if you read this blog you also know!) that I am incredibly wise with my grocery budget! I only buy things on sale.  If I’m buying cookies its because they are probably free or almost free! Most of the time when I’m buying overpriced junk food its because I’ve been asked to bring it to a school event!  Even if it wasn’t on sale, or free, or for an event there is nothing wrong with buying a treat every now and then.

Assumption #3: Poor people don’t deserve extra discounts

One time I should have earned $20 off my next purchase for buying $200 in Lowe’s gift cards.  You had to spend at least $50 in groceries to get this though.  My total before WIC was around $80 and after WIC it was still over $50 (even though that shouldn’t matter).  The register didn’t print the $20 coupon so I had to go to customer service.  The very first thing the manager told me was that I can’t get the $20 because I used WIC.  It took a few minutes to point out to him that even after all my WIC deductions I was still well over the $50 requirement.  The cashier eventually gave me the $20 but he was obviously frustrated with my annoying request.

Assumption #4: I’m a bad or lazy person because I’m taking a government handout

Yes, I am getting free food paid for by the government because my family doesn’t make very much money.    Yes, there are people who are lazy and abuse the system but that’s not the majority.  I’d love to earn more money, in fact, my husband and I are both working incredibly hard to make more money! However, right now we need help.  There is nothing wrong with getting help, especially when the money has already been set aside to help people like me!

Fun Fact- Did you know over 70% of women on WIC are either employed or have been employed in the past 12 months?

How should you treat someone on WIC??

Exactly like everyone else! When you see a Mom using WIC you should see a Mom working hard to provide the best for her family.  She understands the importance of healthy eating and is making sure her kids get the nutrients they need!  She probably doesn’t want to be on WIC, and she is probably sick of people making assumptions about her!

The same goes for a person using food stamps.  You don’t know their story, you don’t know how they ended up on food stamps so don’t assume anything.

When is it most embarrassing to use WIC?

As I said, I’ve been on WIC for about 3 years.  I have gotten used to the mean looks, and being treated like I’m dumb but there is still one situation I can’t get over. When a former student of mine is the cashier I am too embarrassed to use my WIC card.  Just this past week  I was at the store and one of my former middle school Algebra students was ringing me up.  I was too embarrassed to use my WIC.  Somehow in my mind, it makes me feel like they’ll think I wasn’t actually good at math after all.  It’s so silly I know.

I hope this post has taught you something.  If you found it interesting I’d love for you to share it!

*All statistics are taken from the USDA food and nutrition service website:  https://www.fns.usda.gov

 

6 thoughts on “My thoughts on WIC…”

  1. Hey Carrie, I know how you feel. I always felt that I was inconveniencing some of the cashiers by having some many orders, because here in GA they give you vouchers allowing us to purchase only certain items for my son. However, my son just turned 5 in November, now we no longer receive the WIC vouchers.
    Yes we live under the poverty line and that is only because I stay at home and care for my disabled wife. We scrape by her on her disability income and we receive food stamps. But we also baby-sit a 2.5 yr old.
    Don’t let what other people think make you feel less of a person, mom, wife. You do what you have to do to feed your family.
    Best of luck in your blogging journey.

  2. Oh my gosh this was such a therapeutic read! Our family is also on WIC (I have a 3 1/2 year old and a 7 month old) and we just went on it about 9 months ago (right before baby #2 was born). WOW WHAT AN ADJUSTMENT. My husband and I have never been on any assistance before (we also get a few few food stamps now) and he works full time in the Assessor’s office at the country courthouse. But I”m a freelance writer and, like you, my income is less than the cost of daycare. ANYHOO, using WIC is so hard. And here in MN they give us paper vouchers, and it’s a huge mess using them because you have to sort items as you put them on the register to fit with specific vouchers. There is no being discreet, and often the cashiers mess up and say something isn’t eligible when it is and blah blah blah. I’ve come home and burst into tears more than once just from the stress of it. Curse the free milk! Ha. (Also: Speaking of milk, do they try to give you ridiculous amounts of it? Like seriously GALLONS and GALLONS of the stuff.) P.S. I came here originally from FB with the specific intention of subscribing to your blog and had trouble — I started on the sidebar and closed the pop-up because I was already typing in the other box. Well now the other box won’t take my submission and I can’t get the pop-up back! Just an FYI, I’ll try to check back later. Cheers! 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness YES on the crazy amounts of milk! I have 2 kids on wic and we get more milk than all 5 of us can use! We also get an insane amount of cereal!!

      About the subscribe button: it should pop up again if you leave the site and come back!

  3. My feeling is, if you qualify for something, take it. I’ve been on food stamps before during transition periods, and I figure that enough of my tax dollars went into the program, and that’s what it’s for, so why not? I can’t say that I felt other people looking at me with disgust though. Yes I was embarrassed to pull out the card. Yes I felt like people would judge me. But I realized that when I assumed they felt a certain way, and they hadn’t said anything, I was guilty of being the judgmental one. Just have yourself a few good responses for when people open their mouths the way they shouldn’t, and divide your groceries into 2 orders, WIC stuff in back. Tell the cashier you need to pay for them separately.

  4. I didn’t go on WIC with my second daughter and she is almost 5 now, but I do have a SNAP card (food stamps). I hate using it and try to hide it or use the self-checkout because I hate being judged for it. It was even worse with my oldest daughter using WIC since I was also a teen mom but had two jobs. I now stay home and care for my mother and daughter since I can’t afford a nursing home and daycare.

  5. Been there. We had WIC when my oldest kids were little, and we were still finishing college and trying to get settled. It was back when the vouchers were these paper coupons that were even more difficult for the cashiers to ring up, so no one wanted to see you come through a line with them. Like you, I could feel the looks, so I usually only used them in the bigger towns farther from where we live because I was just hoping not to see anyone I knew. Sometimes I think I put the stigma on myself though. Not everyone was judgemental about it or treated us badly. And personally, I think WIC is a good system because it designates what recipients can receive, so it’s not as easy to abuse that system.

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