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Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition

Program Description

The Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC) is a nutrition assistance program for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women and children under age five who are at nutritional risk. WIC Program assistance includes nutrition education, referrals to healthcare and other services and checks to purchase nutritious foods at retail grocery stores.

WIC is not an entitlement program; that is, Congress does not set aside funds to allow every eligible individual to participate in the program. Instead, WIC is a Federal grant program for which Congress authorizes a specific amount of funding each year for program operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, which administers the program at the Federal level, provides these funds to WIC State agencies (State health departments or comparable agencies) to pay for WIC foods, nutrition education, and administrative costs.

Families enrolled in the WIC program may also be eligible for services of the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, operated during the summer months, and the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program, operated in 16 locations statewide, which are also funded by the USDA.

Program Goal and Effectiveness

The goal of the WIC program is to decrease the risk of poor birth outcomes and to improve the health of participants during critical times of growth and development. To meet this goal, WIC provides nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion, healthcare and other referrals and specific foods that provide key nutrients needed by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, infants and children.

Numerous scientific studies show that pregnant women who participate in the WIC program seek earlier prenatal care and consume a healthier diet. The improved nutrition and nutrition education provided to enrolled women and children result in longer pregnancies, fewer very low birth weight babies, and fewer fetal and infant deaths. This translates into enormous savings in health care dollars. Research shows a savings of $3.50 for every $1.00 spent on WIC.


WIC clients are called participants.  Each month, WIC serves over 1.4 million participants statewide.  Over 950,000 California families are enrolled and 60 percent of all infants born in California participate in WIC.

Most families are employed with incomes up to 185% of the poverty level.  About 65% of WIC participants are enrolled in Medi-Cal; about 18% are enrolled in the Food Stamp Program and 15% in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.  Over 90% of infants and children have health coverage. 

Program Funding and Administration

The California Department of Public Health, Center for Family Health administers California’s WIC Program, which is 100% grant and rebate funded - there is no General Fund in the WIC Program. The California WIC budget for Federal Fiscal Year 2007 was $1.2 Billion including approximately $900 million from the annual federal grant and $300 million in reimbursements from food manufacturers’ rebates.

Program Operations

WIC has contracts with 82 local agencies—half county or city governments and half private, non-profit community organizations—that operate WIC service sites in 670 locations statewide. 

WIC agencies evaluate and document program eligibility, provide nutrition education in individual and group sessions, make referrals to health and social services in their communities and issue over 6 million food checks to participants each month.  Each check is valid for use for a 30 day period and is payable for a specific type and quantity of food.  The nutritious foods provided to participants include milk, cheese, eggs, beans, peanut butter, iron-fortified cereal, iron-fortified infant formula and juice. WIC checks can be redeemed at any of the 3,700 grocery stores statewide that have entered into “vendor agreements” with the WIC program.

Program Outreach

Working families are among the most unlikely to know of WIC services since they often believe they are not eligible because they work. Many of California's working families receive low wages that do not allow them to purchase sufficient healthy foods for themselves and their families or to adequately access preventive health care services such as immunizations.  WIC’s outreach goal is to encourage these families to participate in WIC and to benefit from improved nutrition, nutrition counseling and referrals while saving taxpayer dollars.

Statistics/Data Reports

USDA maintains California WIC data as follows:

    1. Latest California available Monthly Participation data: “State Level Participation”
    2. Annual State Level Data (FY 2002-2006), for: Total Participation, Food Costs, Average Monthly Food Cost Per Person, and Nutrition Services and Administrative Costs. These reports may all be accessed at the following link: http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/wicmain.htm

WIC Contact Information:

  • For More Information, California WIC’s Web site is: http://www.wicworks.ca.gov
  • Toll-free in-state:  1-888-WICWORKS or 1-888-942-9675
  • Voice:  (916) 928-8806 / Fax:  (916) 928-0706
Last modified on: 3/7/2011 9:56 AM