The Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women,
Infants, and Children: The WIC
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children—the WIC program—is today the third largest form of food assistance in the United States. Over 7 million Americans participate in this program, at an annual cost of over 4 billion dollars. Enacted as a two-year experiment in 1972, it has become one of the most important, and by most accounts, successful of America's welfare programs.
The origins of the WIC program are to be found in a double failure. Neither the War on Poverty nor food stamps, the largest food assistance program, proved able to eliminate hunger in America. Then, efforts by liberals in Congress to create a national nutrition program for all children fell before a Richard Nixon veto in 1971. Each, in its own way, provided the impetus for a new program to grant food aid to needy mothers and their young children.
The 1960s had been marked by a number of initiatives to end poverty. In an optimistic era, their success was presumed. But in 1967, a series of dramatic reports put the lie to that belief. In the spring, a group of senators went to the Mississippi delta for a routine investigation of the War on Poverty programs. What they found was a level of hunger, even starvation, they did not know existed. At almost the same time, the Physicians' Task Force on Hunger visited Mississippi and Appalachia under the aegis of the Field Foundation. It found a rural landscape of emaciated and anemic children. Then, the CBS television network aired a series entitled “Hunger in America,” which broadcast vivid images of a different, desperate America into millions of middle-class homes. Hunger be