May 19, 2020

Florida Must Do More to Reach Upwards of 400,000 Eligible Families Not Participating in the WIC Program

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Confusion over eligibility, processes that vary from county to county among factors contributing to decline

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida must take steps to stop waning participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), suggests a new report by the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI), including clarifying who is eligible, modernizing enrollment and appointment policies, and reducing barriers to shopping. Only 51 percent of eligible Floridians participate in WIC. There are more than 400,000 people who meet the program’s criteria but aren’t participating, a number likely to increase along with mass layoffs across the state stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Counties with some of the lowest enrollment rates are Levy, Glades, and Wakulla.

The percentage of eligible people served in the state’s WIC program dropped by 13 percent from 2015 to 2019, according to FPI's analysis of Florida Department of Health data.

“The WIC program remains a crucial resource in improving outcomes for infants and children and reducing racial disparities in infant health,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI.  “The number of people who are unemployed is skyrocketing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so it’s especially crucial now that the state is enrolling all eligible families, and making it easier for families already enrolled to participate in the program.”

FPI recommends that lawmakers, state agencies, and health professionals, working in concert with eligible families, use the following workable solutions to streamline WIC:

  • Help combat misperceptions. This includes clarifying that children of any income-eligible parent or guardian — not just mothers — can get WIC and that the program is not considered in “public charge” decisions.
  • Create easier ways for people to get (and stay) enrolled. There are additional steps Florida could take under federal law to better accommodate eligible families, including fully exempting children of working parents from in-person appointments and offering non-traditional interview methods.
  • Make shopping effortless. There are at least 12 different flyers on the Florida Department of Health website explaining which products are WIC eligible — this information should be condensed to avoid confusion. Further, Florida’s WIC mobile application, which helps families identify allowable groceries at the store, is only available in Spanish and English, disadvantaging Haitian and other families who are not fluent in these languages.  

“We look forward to working with state officials, advocates, and families to move this process forward and ensure that more WIC-eligible families are accessing nutritious food for their children,” added Knight.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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