June 28, 2023
Washington, DC – As part of its ongoing nutrition advocacy work and in response to a bill that would strip fruit and vegetable Cash Value Benefits (CVB) from the Special Supplementary Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), more than 70 allied associations and members of the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) joined with the organization in a sign-on letter opposing these cuts. The letter was sent to Capitol Hill prior to the House Appropriations Committee voting on the bill on June 14 and the Senate Appropriations subcommittee voting on June 22.
IFPA also joined as a signatory with the National WIC Association, American Public Health Association, and the National Grocers Association on a statement supporting WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefits.
On June 22, the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed a funding bill which included full funding of the WIC fruit and vegetable benefit amount to retain the monthly allotment for the five million women and children at $44 and $24, respectively.
The Senate bill stood in stark contrast to the previous week when the House FY24 funding bill included a 56% reduction in the fruit and vegetable benefits for children and a 70% drop for women. Under the House bill, children would receive just $11 a month for fruits and vegetables starting October 1 of this year. For reference, the WIC CVB for fruits and vegetables was raised during the pandemic to provide additional nutritional support to program participants to align with a 2017 National Academy of Sciences recommendations.
During the House Committee deliberations, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D, IL-14) offered an amendment to restore the full fruit and vegetable benefit amount in WIC. Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) subsequently offered, and passed, a secondary amendment – which amended the Underwood amendment to partially restore funding to WIC benefits by pulling money from the USDA Rural Energy for America Program that is utilized by producers to make renewable energy improvements. Rep. Underwood withdrew her amendment citing a “false choice” between which program to cut. The underlying bill was ultimately passed on a party line vote with the WIC fruit and vegetable benefit cuts remaining in place.
“Plain and simple, the WIC fruit and vegetable benefit is a success story. Though nine out of ten Americans don’t meet federal dietary recommendations, and nearly one half of young children do not eat a daily vegetable, children participating in WIC consume two cups of fruits and vegetables per day. We cannot turn our backs on this progress and the children who rely on this important benefit, which infuses needed resources that improve access to healthy fruits and vegetables throughout every community in this country,” said IFPA CEO Cathy Burns.
In terms of the legislative process, Congress will now need to reconcile the differences of the legislation before September 30. To further strengthen the industry’s voice on this issue, IFPA members are strongly encouraged to contact their members of Congress on this issue via the IFPA Advocacy Action Center.
As part of overarching efforts to further underscore the significance of the WIC produce benefits to Congress, the National WIC Association (of which IFPA is a member) produced Families Call on Congress to Maintain WIC Access to Fruits and Vegetables, which included these personal and profound perspectives from parents and grandparents, including:
- “It would crush me. I rely on this assistance to keep my toddler on fresh fruits and vegetables. I am proud of how much he loves produce, and I feel that it is perhaps the healthiest part of his diet. With less money, I wouldn't be able to feed him as well.”
- “The increased fruit and vegetable benefit for WIC families has been life changing. While it certainly helps with our monthly grocery budget, it also has allowed my daughter to taste, experiment with, and enjoy a broader range of fruits and vegetables.”
- “The increased fruit and vegetable benefits in WIC have been great for a grandmother of three. WIC makes sure that all three kids get the amount of fruits and veggies that they need and love! If this benefit was lowered, it would mean that my grandkids wouldn’t get as much as what the doctors tell me they need.”
- “Having the increase in CVB from $9 to $25 is lifesaving. With the increased support, I am able to introduce fresh and healthy produce to my family. Lowering the fruit and vegetable benefit would take meals away from my son.”
“Besides the obvious nutrition loss program participants would experience because of slashed WIC benefits, there is also economic opportunity at stake for growers and supermarket operators,” said IFPA Vice President of Nutrition and Health Mollie Van Lieu. “When WIC participants utilize their current fruit and vegetable benefits, it translates in a sales lift of more than $1 billion and a wider variety of fresh produce being purchased. In fact, it was the industry that heavily advocated with public health advocates to establish the fruit and vegetable benefit in 2009 – which is now widely recognized as one of the most successful and cost-effective nutrition interventions programs – in no small part due the WIC fruit and vegetable benefit. We appreciate the on-going commitment of members and allied associations to speak out about this important program.”