Ending WIC at age 5 leaves families without food

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When a US food assistance program, WIC, ends at age five, the families of children who aren’t yet in kindergarten may fall into food insecurity.

One in five American households with children does not have adequate access to food. To combat food insecurity, the US relies on a variety of food and nutritional programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). This program is designed specifically for pregnant women, mothers and children from birth to age five.

The researchers say policy makers should consider extending WIC eligibility until children enter school, rather than setting an age limit.

“The cutoff age of five for WIC is associated with an assumption that this is the normal age at which children enter kindergarten and become eligible for free and reduced price lunch programs,” says Irma Arteaga, assistant professor in the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs and lead author of the study. “However, not all children who are five are automatically eligible to attend school.

“State and local rules, not federal, determine the age at which children begin kindergarten. These rules are reliant on some predetermined date—a common one being September 1st—meaning children born after that date will not enter kindergarten until the following year, thus losing WIC benefits with nothing to replace it.”

Arteaga and her team analyzed data for 1,350 children between the ages of four and a half and six from a nationally representative dataset. The researchers found evidence that aging out of WIC increases food insecurity for children who have not yet started school.

Food stamps mean fewer hungry kids

“Food insecurity is a significant social problem in America, especially for households with children, so it’s imperative that we understand the extent to which current nutrition and food programs are effective,” says Colleen Heflin, professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs. “People who cannot provide enough food for themselves or their children are more likely to miss days at work, experience declines in their health, and experience more anxiety, creating economic losses.

“Children without access to sufficient food are likely to have lower educational outcomes and worse health than children in food secure households.”

The study appears in the journal Children and Youth Services Review. The USDA supported the work and the dataset came from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Source: University of Missouri