Dear Lazyweb: WIC and nutrition stores

I know that WIC is the federal program for pregnancy, breastfeeding, and infant nutrition. I see their offices in poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles. And I also know that women receiving that aid get EBT cards or checks that have to be spent on very specific items.

Next door to almost every WIC office I see a store with a name like “Mommy’s Nutrition” or “Baby and Mom Nutrition.” It’s obvious that these places exist to immediately capture the business from WIC.

Are these places predatory? I did come across a reference to “WIC Only Stores” being predatory and the government putting in fair price rules to deter that, but that was in 2006 and the stores are still everywhere.

I know some of you work professionally with poverty issues. What’s the scoop?

18 thoughts on “Dear Lazyweb: WIC and nutrition stores

  1. That would suck if it was predatory instead of an honest business providing items which WIC EBT card holders could shop items they can get without having to sort through the rest.
    To much in this world is predatory.


  2. WIC used to be coupons, not through EBT… coupons for specific amounts of specific food categories (formula, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, beans, juice) and it was up to individual stores to determine which brands/etc they were willing to trade for a specific WIC coupon. Because what could be purchased was limited to very specific items of very specific quantities, many mainstream grocers didn’t want to be bothered and that created the WIC Only stores. I have no idea if the transfer to EBT cards creates a dollar amount instead of accounting for categories/specific items.
    The problem with WIC Only stores is the quality for what the government is paying – velveeta-like processed cheese product, peanut butter that has lots of sugar and added oils, oil-and-corn-syrup infant formula.


  3. I’m no professional, but many of my friends use WIC, and a lot of the times those specific checks for very specific items cause so much embarassment in a regular grocery store that some feel it’s not worth it & end up at the WIC store. Not only because of the embarassment, but because it’s just easier, especially with a baby, to just be able to grab anything and not worry about how many ounces it is or what brand (my roommate does this because the WIC store is right there and her 3 yr old is insane.) Since WIC isn’t based on a dollar amount (at least not that I’m aware of,) but rather amounts of very particular kinds of foods per month, it works completely different than the EBT card.
    As an aside, some of the local farmer’s markets around here take EBT and WIC – one of the many priviledges of being poor in an upper class neighborhood.
    I’m going to look into that… I always just assumed the WIC only stores were there to help.


      1. So that article makes sense, the stores are abusing the system maybe, but the only way it really affects the families who choose to shop there is by using more of the government allotted money for the program, which of course, in the long run would make it so that less people could get the help they need.
        I think the WIC only stores are still beneficial though, I mean when Dasan was a baby I applied for WIC, and after the first time I tried to use it, it was such a horrible confusing, embarassing mess that we just stopped. There weren’t any WIC only stores nearby then and regular stores, much like that article claimed, were really awful to us.
        I have some friends that are doing their theses and dissertations on stuff like this, I’m going to ask around and if I get anything really super interesting I’ll let you know.


      2. i vividly remember the embarrassment and hassle–once i was stuck at the checkout for what seemed like forever, holding up the line because the WIC voucher was for 16 oz. of string cheese and i had grabbed a smaller size. i wish WIC worked like the EBT card.


      3. It would definitely be easier if it did, but still wouldn’t solve the problem of not knowing what brands or sizes qualify. What would be lovely is if there was a particular section of regular grocery stores that were WIC approved, or if things were at least clearly labeled as such.
        Everytime I end up behind someone in line at the grocery store that is having to take everything back and get different sizes or brands of things for WIC I make sure to let them know that I am in no rush, because I know that being on the other end of that with some jerk in a hurry behind you totally sucks.


      4. I hope so! I talk to my local Lucky’s people a lot, and they had mentioned possibly starting to do something like that. It really would make things a lot easier for people.


  4. As someone who was a lactation counsellor with a WIC program for a couple of years, I’ve never seen a WIC-only shop, although many stores here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts let it be known that they take WIC vouchers — perhaps the stickers are old.
    As a practical matter, I don’t see how WIC vouchers could be transferred meaningfully to a card — they are for fixed amounts of dairy items, vegetables, cereals, infant formula, and such and therefore do not actually transition well to cards. Each store would presumably be working with a variety of scanning systems, although I suppose UPC codes could be approved on an individual basis.
    I also agree with other commenters as a former WIC voucher recipient that the amounts called for are maddeningly exacting, e.g. exactly 6 cans of tuna, or so many ounces of infant cereal. They are, however, common enough — and usual practice at grocery stores as far as I used it and other voucher holders used it was to separate out the WIC-approved items, in multiple groups, if needed, and simply place the voucher with them.
    I can say that Whole Foods here makes a point of accepting WIC vouchers, which must be a far more flagrant fulfilment of a voucher coupon than any predatory bodega.


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