WASHINGTON — Participation in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program rose in the 2022 fiscal year, marking the first increase in participation in more than a decade, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

The USDA said participation in the program averaged 6.26 million people per month in 2022, up from 6.24 million people per month during the 2021 fiscal year. The year-over-year increase was the first in overall participation in the WIC program since a record high 9.18 million people took part in fiscal 2010, the USDA said.

During fiscal 2022, children made up 54.8% of WIC’s total participation whereas infants made up 22.8% and women made up 22.4%, the USDA said. The Department said the number of infant participants declined for the 13th consecutive year (2.5%), but the number of women participants increased for the first time in 12 fiscal years (1.5%) and the number of child participants increased for the second consecutive fiscal year (0.9%). The USDA said the decreasing number of births in the United States may be why infant participation in WIC has decreased.

The USDA created the WIC program to protect low-income pregnant and post-partum women as well as infants and children, the latter must be up to five years old and at nutritional risk. The program also provides participants with supplemental food packages, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and health care referrals at no extra cost.

As for program changes, USDA waivers continued temporarily allowing state agencies to conduct remote certifications for applicants and recertifications for WIC participants; the certifications postpone medical documentation requirements for applicants who can’t acquire documentation from their medical provider while the recertifications extend certification periods for certain WIC participants by up to three months. According to the report, the USDA offers waivers that continue temporarily allowing state agencies to suspend requirements that participants scheduled for either nutrition education or a recertification appointment pick up their food benefit in person. The waivers also continue temporarily allowing a single employee to both determine eligibility and issue food benefits for the same participant.

Furthermore, WIC state agencies increased the cash-value voucher (CVV) for fruit and vegetable purchases that can’t be easily made. The CVV of fruit and vegetable purchases increased from $9 for adults and $11 for children to an amount less than or equal to $35 per participant from March through September of this year. The CVV amounts also were changed to $24 for children, $43 for pregnant and post-partum women, and $47 for breastfeeding women through the 2022 fiscal year.

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