WIC Program Manufacturer Rebates Retained Revenue

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals
  • Expert Commentary

The Women's, Infants, and Children's (WIC) program is a nutrition program that serves low- and moderate-income pregnant women and small children. The program is particularly aimed at women and children who are at risk for poor nutrition, and children form the largest category of WIC participants.

The WIC program is a federal program that was created in the early 1970s to respond to concerns about poor nutrition among women and pre-school children. The program is administered in states by local agencies, and receives both federal and state funds. Residents of Massachusetts are eligible for the WIC program if they have incomes below 185% FPL, have nutritional need (as determined by WIC staff), and are either a child under five, a new mother, or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman (a parent or guardian may apply for WIC on behalf of his or her child). Families enrolled in certain benefit programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF are automatically eligible for the program. WIC program sites are located in non-profit agencies, health centers and hospitals across the state.

WIC enrollees receive vouchers and checks that allow them get free nutritious foods and baby formula at authorized grocery stores and pharmacies. The program also provides nutrition education and counseling and referrals to health care providers and other social service programs. The WIC program encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies, but WIC agencies also provide infant formula.

The formula rebate program reduces the state's cost of infant formula under a contract with a specific formula manufacturer. After a WIC participant uses a WIC voucher to purchase infant formula, the state WIC program reimburses the retailer for the retail price of the formula, and then bills the formula manufacturer for a rebate on the cost of each can of formula purchased. This means that the cost to the state for infant formula is well below retail cost. This line item in the state budget authorizes the WIC program to retain the rebate revenue and use it for program costs. Revenue from rebates supplements the federal grant to Massachusetts that provides the bulk of WIC funding. The program also receives an appropriation from the state General Fund (see 4513-1002).

Updated, January 2017

Recent resarch continues to find a positive association between birth weight and prenatal WIC participation. However, estimates adjusted for gestational age bias, such as measures of fetal growth, indicate a weaker association with WIC. Overall, research suggests that WIC is associated with improved diets among children, as measured by the intake of fats, carbohydrates, added sugars and variety of foods consumed. As with earlier WIC evaluations, the most common finding in recent research is a lower likelihood of breastfeeding and a higher likelihood of formula feeding among WIC participants relative to nonparticipants.

"Effects of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): A Review of Recent Research" (Nutrition Assistance Program Report Series, Office of Research and Analysis, USDA, January 2012, p.81).