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A Reimagined PA WIC Program Introduced during “WIC Month”

Hanifa Nakiryowa, MID, presents a renewed vision for the WIC Program to a WIC representative in Beaver County

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as the WIC Program, has been a cornerstone in efforts to support healthier pregnancies and improved birth outcomes for qualifying mothers, babies, and young children up to age five. Here in Pennsylvania, Governor Wolf commemorated its 45th anniversary by declaring May WIC Month. What the Governor did not say is that this critical program is in jeopardy.

WIC has helped increase infant birth weights, reduce infant mortality and increase breastfeeding. It has reduced childhood anemia and improved nutrition, cognitive development and learning in young children. And it has increased the use of health services in families with young children.

Despite the WIC Program's contributions to the health of women and children, the program has seen declining enrollment across the country. Pennsylvania enrolls only about half of eligible women and children. This has meant the loss of significant federal WIC funding.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation and WHAMglobal are committed to advocating for a re-envisioned WIC Program and on May 16th published a research paper: Reinvigorating and Reimagining The Pennsylvania WIC Program. The white paper identifies states with high WIC participation rates and explores possible reasons for their success. These states make it easier to enroll – and stay enrolled – in WIC, with walk-in, weekend and evening hours, and the possibility of completing some of the required nutrition education online. They make WIC clinics inviting for children and offer programs that are empowering for women. And their clinics have relationships with many other providers who can help address needs beyond nutrition.

With leadership from the highest levels of PA government, WIC can be the front door for vulnerable families at critical times and in critical circumstances. WIC has the potential to prevent maternal and infant deaths, and to help address the needs of families affected by poverty, HIV, the alarming opioid epidemic, family violence, mental health issues or other disabilities – preventing the need for many services down the road.

JHF and WHAMglobal have been getting the word out about how the WIC Program can be revitalized. On May 22, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an op-ed by Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD entitled, "Help mothers and babies in Pennsylvania," that proposes a new vision for the Pennsylvania WIC Program. Also on May 22nd, WHAMglobal staff members Hanifa Nakiryowa, MID, Global Health Associate, and Kate Dickerson, MSc, Women's Health Specialist, met with a WIC representative in Beaver County to make public comments at a hearing on WIC conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The work isn't done yet. WHAMglobal will continue to raise awareness about the need to transform the PA WIC Program at Birthing A Movement on June 8th and 9th. 

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