Thriving PA’s newest report, WIC Participants Encourage Improvements to Remove Barriers to Access, highlights community feedback about the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly referred to as WIC. Over the summer, Thriving PA partnered with several community organizations across the state to hold seven focus sessions with current and former WIC clients to hear directly from their experiences on the strengths and barriers of the WIC program.
The WIC program provides eligible pregnant and postpartum women and infants and children up to age 5 with access to nutritious foods, breastfeeding supports, nutritional education, and health referrals. Unfortunately, participation in PA’s WIC program has been declining in recent years, a trend that is happening nationally. From 2018-2022, the PA program saw nearly a 25% decline in participation. The pandemic also impacted these numbers, with Pennsylvania seeing the third largest decrease in participation from February 2020 to February 2022.
To address the declining participation, which impacts the federal funding Pennsylvania receives to administer the program, Thriving PA sought out direct feedback from participants to identify solutions to the WIC program’s challenges. Many of the recommendations in the report highlight opportunities to modernize the program and provide greater flexibility for participants. Some recommendations include technology improvements like moving to an online EBT card system and simplifying the application process through system integration with other state application systems like COMPASS. Others include allowing virtual visits to continue and coordinate care between health professionals, so participants do not need to provide the same information to multiple providers.
Thriving PA hopes the incoming administration and WIC Advisory, a stakeholder group formed earlier this year, will consider the recommendations from WIC clients to help improve the WIC program and increase participation statewide.