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