June 21, 2022
Newark, De. & Washington, D.C. – Creating retail partnerships, establishing permanent benefit amounts, allowing for earlier redemption by age, and increasing program awareness were the four recommendations put forth by International Fresh Produce Association Vice President of Nutrition & Health Mollie Van Lieu in recent comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s Food and Nutrition Service as the agency sought feedback on how it can ensure participants in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program take full advantage of the cash value benefit (CVB) available to them.
“Access and consumption to fruits and vegetables is vitally important across all populations and especially for those served under WIC,” she noted “Specifically, nutrition during pregnancy is one of the key factors that impacts fetal growth and development.”
Citing research that found in the short time since the CVB was increased through the American Rescue Plan, fruit and vegetable intake among WIC participants increased in turn, suggesting that this enhanced benefit is in the best interest of WIC participants in terms of physical and mental health as well as nutrition security.
Yet, studies show the most common reasons the CVB is not fully utilized include difficulty using the exact amount provided and lack of clarity about how and where CVB can be used, as well as insufficient benefits for fruits and vegetables. In response, IFPA made the following recommendations to ensure WIC participants are utilizing the full CVB and increasing their access to fresh produce.
- Recommendation 1: Increased awareness of CVB among participants. Providing more support within communities regarding how and where to redeem CVB may help further increase redemption rates and contribute to increased intake of fresh produce among the WIC population.
- Recommendation 2: Consistent CVB amount. The CVB amount has varied due to legislative actions including the American Rescue Plan and most recently, the omnibus bill. As a result, participants may be unaware of the current CVB available to them. WIC state and local agencies should include the current CVB amount in their communications, and USDA should increase the CVB permanently to reduce confusion.
- Recommendation 3: Allow CVB redemption before 12 months of age. Current WIC guidelines limit the use of the CVB before one year of age, despite many participants wishing to serve age-appropriate fruits and vegetables. USDA should adjust regulations that allow CVB to be provided for infants under 12 months when appropriate.
- Recommendation 4: Retail Partnerships. USDA should explore best practices around retail engagement for WIC CVB redemption. For example, state and local WIC agencies could partner with WIC-authorize retailers to encourage signage and promotion of usage of the CVB. WIC participants may be hesitant to use the CVB at retail locations if they are unsure if it is accepted there, what products are eligible, or if they do not have confidence in the amount available.
“WIC remains one of the crown jewels of USDA evidence-based programs in that it ensures participants have access to fruits and vegetables during a critical window,” Van Lieu commented “IFPA continues to support the WIC CVB increase and we look forward to working with USDA, our members, and partners to increase redemption of this vitally important benefit. “
Nutrition policy is a priority for IFPA and the organization is steadfastly committed to collaborating with Congress and the Administration to aggressively prioritize nutrition to improve dietary quality for all Americans.