In fiscal year 2018, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) served 6.9 million people: low-income, nutritionally-at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and their infants and children up to age 5. WIC participants receive a benefit package redeemable for specific nutritionally tailored food products, typically at commercial food retailers. WIC State agencies charged with administering the program have significant latitude in deciding to authorize retailers, which may have implications for food costs and participants’ food access.
Nationally, the majority of stores that redeem WIC benefits are typical food retailers such as supermarkets, medium-sized grocery stores, and smaller convenience stores. States also have the option of authorizing “above-50-percent” (A50) stores that derive more than 50 percent of their food sales from WIC transactions. A50 stores typically cater almost exclusively to WIC customers by stocking primarily the foods that can be purchased with WIC benefits and by employing cashiers knowledgeable about WIC transactions. A50 stores tend to locate close to WIC clinics, which in turn are located close to WIC participants, thereby increasing participants’ geographic access to WIC-provided foods. Federal regulations forbid A50 stores’ prices from exceeding a State’s average WIC prices. In 2012, 13 State agencies authorized around 1,300 A50 stores to accept WIC benefits.
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