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Program Providing Extra Fruit, Vegetables to Kids Set to Expire


Monday, February 28, 2022   

Advocates warn that low-income families may have to cut back on fruits and vegetables starting in April - if Congress allows part of their food benefits to expire.

President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan bumped up the amount families get to buy fruits and vegetables as part of the Women Infants and Children program, called WIC.

Shannon Whaley - director or research and evaluation for Public Health Foundation Enterprises WIC program, a part of Heluna Health in LA - said unless Congress extends that bump by March 11, benefits go back to $9 a month for kids younger than five.

"For a child to intake all their monthly vegetables, 5 fruits and vegetables a day, a child would need $48 a month," said Whaley. "What the cash-value benefit bump has done is enable the WIC program to provide half of those fruits and vegetables, so $24 a month."

In California, almost a million low-income pregnant women, mothers of newborns and children younger than five depend on WIC.

Brian Dittmeier - senior director of public policy for the National WIC Association - said the benefit helps families afford healthy food, and boosts farmers and retailers in the process.

"Access to healthy foods in early childhood can shape lifelong taste preferences and build healthier diets in the long run," said Dittmeier.

UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Professor of Community Health Sciences May Wang is an expert on WIC. She said in the past, adding more vegetables to the program produced measurable results.

"When WIC had that change in the food package in 2009," said Wang, "we saw a decrease in childhood obesity in the 3- to 5-year-olds."

Kiran Saluja - the executive director for the PHFE WIC Program in LA - said Congress should extend the benefit until September and then make the new rates permanent.

"When Congress goes in," said Saluja, "whether they do an omnibus bill which would take us through September or they do a continuing resolution through September, we want to make sure that this fruit and vegetable benefit continues to stay."

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