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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

Missouri's evolving WIC program meets a range of food and health needs, but uptake is slow

 A hand holds a phone that is scanning a box of cereal. On the phone screen there is a green checkmark and the term "WIC Approved."
Katie Quinn
Missouri Business Alert
Foods that are "approved" by Missouri WIC - meaning that funds can be spent on them - are often marked in grocery stores with small signs, but now shoppers in Missouri can also use the WICShopper app to scan the barcodes on food products to see if they are on the "Approved Food List."

WIC or Women, Infants and Children is an education and supplemental nutrition program for pregnant and postpartum people, as well as children up to the age of five.

KBIA’s Rebecca Smith sat down with Anne Strope, the administrative coordinator with Missouri WIC, to talk about the program and how some recent changes are trying to make WIC more accommodating to participants’ needs.

"People don't know how much WIC has grown, especially in the last four years."
Anne Strope

Rebecca Smith: So, to start us off, can you just tell us a little bit about WIC and about the need for it in Missouri?

Anne Strope: There are still so many people out there that would qualify for our services and really benefit from our services.

Over the past 50 years, there's been lots of research that continuously proves that being on the WIC program improves the health of the participant – in the time they're with WIC and beyond.

People don't know how much WIC has grown, especially in the last four years. They think it's still, you know, this voucher check system and its cumbersome and it’s embarrassing at the store because you're always holding up the line, and that's not the case anymore.

And so, it's really trying to get that word out more about the changes, and how we're improving that accessibility to our participants.

Smith: Yeah. So, what are some of those changes that have happened in the last four years?

Strope: So one of them is moving off of our checks system into what we call our eWIC card, which is an EBT card. It's like a debit card.

And so, before you had checks and you had to present these checks – and you had to sign it, the cashier had to sign it, and you had to get everything at the same time. So, if you had four gallons of milk in a month, you got four gallons that day.

But we rolled out our eWIC card, and with that, participants can get benefits throughout the month whenever they need, and the PIN, their personal identification number that comes with their card, acts as the signature.

And so, it makes it a little bit more streamlined at the stores, it makes it less obvious that you are with participant, which is a good thing.

And in October of 2022, we added over 700 items to the approved food list that we have here in Missouri.

Another really cool thing I want to tell you about we joined theWICShopper app, and this is a smartphone application that's free.

Then our participants can upload their card information to their app, and so, they can see what benefits they have, they can track what they have left more easy, some of them even get appointment reminders through the app.

Smith: So, the last question I have for you, Anne – unless you think I've missed anything – is what do you want people to know about Missouri WIC? Maybe people who've never heard of it before and aren't sure if they qualify, or maybe people who are worried about that stigma?

Strope: You were there for your child, and WIC is there for you.

And so, if you're struggling to make ends meet, and you're worried that your child has eaten mac and cheese and hotdogs for the fifth day in a row, this is things that WIC can help with because WIC can provide those nutritional foods and allow them to try new things.

"You were there for your child, and WIC is there for you."
Anne Strope

We actually got a bump in how much allowance people get for fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. We've had participants tell us, “Oh, I get to actually buy a kiwi and have my kids try it because we have the ability to do that now and I finding my kids love lots of different fruits and vegetables.”

If you don't know much about WIC, think of WIC as more of a resource in your back pocket.

Just because WIC is for Women, Infants and Children doesn't mean you have to be a woman to apply. If you are a father, a grandparent, a guardian, a foster parent, any kind of caregiver – if you have children under the age of five in your care, they could qualify for benefits.

For more information on how to apply for WIC, visit: https://health.mo.gov/living/families/wic/families/howdoiapplyforwic/

Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.
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