By Tami Luhby, CNN
The US Department of Agriculture is awarding $53 million in grants to beef up outreach efforts, improve technology and enhance the shopping experience for families receiving the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.
The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, aims to help state agencies, community groups and other nonprofits test new ways of reaching out to existing and potential WIC participants.
It will also go to state agencies to leverage text messaging, mobile phone support and appointment-scheduling tools, as well as for projects to help participants identify WIC-eligible foods in grocery stores, plan for online shopping with WIC benefits and train grocery workers to provide better services to beneficiaries.
The effort comes as the Biden administration seeks to bolster food assistance and minimize hunger in the US.
WIC provides food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and health care referrals to low-income children up to age 5 and to pregnant and postpartum women. The American Rescue Plan also expanded access to fruits and vegetables by increasing the benefit amount to $35 a month per person, a provision that was later modified and extended through December of this year.
Some 6.2 million Americans participated in WIC in February, an increase of 1.2% from February 2020, according to a recent report from the Food Research & Action Center, an advocacy group. Participants poured $7 billion in WIC benefits into local economies.
But participation varied widely, increasing in 21 states and the District of Columbia and decreasing or holding steady in the rest in the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.
North Carolina had the largest increase in participation at 21%, while New Mexico had the greatest drop at 20%, according to the center’s report.
Nearly 1.4 million women participated in February, a decline of 5.4% over two years. The number of children in the program jumped 8.7% to nearly 3.4 million, while the number of infants fell 7.7% to 1.4 million.
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