A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

USDA greenlights online infant formula shopping under Special Supplemental Nutrition Program

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Households receiving benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children could be able to start shopping for baby formula online, perhaps within months.

The federal government said states can apply for grants to improve their programs for people with WIC benefits. WIC participants purchase nearly half the nation’s baby formula, but until now have not been able to use their benefits to get it from online retailers.

Geri Henchy, director of nutrition policy and early childhood programs at the Food Research and Action Center, said the government began testing online programs for WIC recipients last year.

Around 11 million people nationwide are eligible to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which helps low-income families purchase infant formula (Photo form Adobe Stock, via PNS)

“And this year, just now, they’re saying that they’re going to fund states to move forward with online ordering,” Henchy noted. “They’re inviting them to apply for this funding, and it’s part of a larger effort to improve the shopping options for WIC clients.”

With the ongoing formula shortage, she argued better access is especially important for new parents in rural areas. WIC monthly benefits go to people who are low-income and pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding or have children up to age five, to help ensure these families have access to nutritious foods.

More than 100,000 Kentucky households receive WIC benefits.

Henchy explained before the nationwide shortage, WIC participants could purchase only one brand of formula. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has lifted purchasing restrictions, and Henchy pointed out the change will remain in effect.

“Now, all the states in the Southeast have expanded the types of formulas that WIC parents can purchase, in essence, with their benefits,” Henchy observed.

Henchy added WIC has been a lifeline for families during a time of unprecedented food inflation.

“Families have a guarantee of the amount of formula, they have a guarantee of the amount of cereal and juice and eggs,” Henchy stressed. “They’re guaranteed to get that as part of their benefits. And I think that’s really important, and people are relying on it.”

The Biden administration also said it will work with states to implement disaster plans to ensure households have access to formula, and improve distribution of specialty formula for infants with health conditions, in the event of a future supply-chain disruption or emergency declaration.

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