Government Reform

Poor People Get to Eat Veggies, Not Just Peanut Butter and Cheese


Because I have been very lucky in life, I didn't know much about WIC, the federal government's food aid program for children and mothers. But this article caught my eye today: 

Beginning today, women and children who receive food vouchers through the federal government's WIC program will be able to use them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

OK, I thought, it's pretty ridiculous that in the Age of Obesity veggies were off the list until today. But the federal government is a slow moving beast. No surprise there. But then I saw this:

The changes also will allow recipients more than 8 million low-income pregnant women, new mothers and young children to use WIC funds for whole grains, canned beans, baby food and tortillas.

Previously, recipients could buy infant formula and cereal, eggs, milk, juice, peanut butter and dried beans. Nursing mothers could buy fresh carrots for their vitamin A content.

What a badly written article, I said to myself. This passage implies that only this strange list of foods are eligible. That can't be right. So I Googled. It took a while, since each state has its own subtly different list of allowed foods, but I found this:

And this:

Seriously? The only cheeses allowed: American, Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, and Swiss? And the only permissible low-fat cheese is Kraft brand only? (Yeah, I bet no lobbying dollar changed hands on that one.) Dried peas, not fresh? White eggs, not brown? Pineapple juice is in, cranberry is out? Why?! It's safe to assume that in most cases very, very poor mothers aren't going to blow all the cash on brie. (And if they do, well, maybe they had a good reason that week.)

This locked down, scientifically-outdated list is exactly the reason to be skeptical of even clean-sounding government aid programs. (Note: WIC is not the same thing as food stamps, which are more flexible). The coldest hearted libertarians (among whose number I count myself) would likely put the abolition of aid to poor babies and nursing mothers at the end of the To Do list. But apparently, the last time this list was overhauled was shortly after the program was created in the 1970s, when there was still an actual danger in the U.S. that pregnant ladies would be skinny and hungry. Private charities moved to giving out vegetables long ago. But it's 2009, and someone finally pushed through vegetables other than carrots (1 lb bag, no "baby, julienne, or organic").

NEXT: Harold Meyerson, Criticizing What He Can't Understand

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  1. Yeah… familiar with the program when I was growing up. Some things never change, the government’s insanely Byzantine procedures for WIC being one of them, apparently.

  2. White eggs, not brown?

    Egg-shell color is important only to retards and Whole Foods-shopping retards. Egg color is determined by the breed of the hen. Breeds with white earlobes lay white eggs, while breeds with red earlobes lay brown eggs. There is little if any nutritional difference between them.

    1. Thank you for being so much less retarded than us Whole-Foods shopping retards. Your knowledge of hens is breathtaking.

    2. Egg color has nothing to do with chiken breed. Brown eggs cannot hatch which is why many vegitarians eat them.

  3. The font size for comments has been increased.

  4. What is up with getting kicked to another page when hitting submit, yo?

  5. Of course, it didn’t happen that time!

    Naga, are you communicating from The University of Southern Mississippi right now?

  6. That’s why items like Kraft Deluxe singles are so popular, cheese can be sliced but it cannot be individually wrapped. Juicy juice made a killing off of it too.

    Would anybody care to guess what this “public option” has done to formula prices?

  7. “It’s safe to assume that in most cases very, very poor mothers aren’t going to blow all the cash on brie.”

    No, they’re saving that for lottery tickets.

    1. A relative works in a food bank. She says that anything that is remotely upscale, like brie, just rots on the shelves. Her clients just won’t take anything that’s not familiar.

    2. “Really, really, poor?”

      You do know that in NY you a family of six (as in father, mother, and four kids) qualifies for WIC when they make under $55K? And that’s not just for people living in the City. You can live out in Caledonia where a nice house costs under $100K, and still qualify for WIC.

  8. A lot of it also seems to be mandates to buy the store brand. I don’t understand the point, since they have vouchers, but I guess they think that poor mothers would starve themselves by spending too much on name brands if they weren’t forced to buy store brand.

  9. I’ve figured out one good thing about threaded comments. They’re a good tool for mentats to work out plans. . .

    1. . . .within plans. . . .

      1. . . .within plans. . . .

        1. LMFAO. Whoever can pull a Dune reference from a interface change gets a “Good play, sir!” in my book.

        2. Say, that is useful! It’s easier to be terrified by a blog you admire.

        3. It is by reason alone I set my mind free. It is by the jacket of gillespie that culture acquires style, the links become orange, the orange become a warning. It is by reason alone I set my mind free.

          1. Hey, no quoting the film(s)!

            1. [hangs head in shame]


  10. I guess you didn’t spend a lot of time reading up on why this *supplemental* aid program was started, huh?

  11. Thank goodness none of these uppity welfare queens can buy baby carrots!

    1. “Uppity.” That sounds raci–
      Never mind.

      1. Just checking to see if I can reply to myself.

  12. The vouchers are for specific items–say, “1/2 gallon milk, 1 jar peanut butter, 8 oz. cheese”. Limiting it to store brands or cheap brands like Kraft saves taxpayers money. Disclaimers, etc.

    1. Saves taxpayers money? In what way? It’s just as sensible to suggest that the specific direction of money to certain brands benefits entitled corporations instead of competitive marketeers.

  13. I can! It’s a narcissist’s wet dream!

  14. Egg-shell color is important only to retards and Whole Foods-shopping retards.

    That is clearly not true. It is apparently also important to the government bureaucrats who designed WIC. And brown eggs are no good for making Easter eggs.

  15. The purpose of WIC is to meet very specific nutritional needs (mainly additional protein and fat) as cheaply as possible, not to cover the whole grocery bill. If you’re destitute, you’re supposed to buy the fruits and vegetables with food stamps, not the WIC benefit.

    The article mentions that any store that participates in WIC will now be required to stock whole grains and fresh vegetables — so expect stories in about 18 months about how more and more ‘greedy’ merchants are ‘refusing’ to participate in the WIC program because they hate poor people etc.

    1. Looking at the list of participating supermarkets, I doubt there will be much of an issue. I’m not familiar with any supermarkets (as opposed to bodegas) that don’t have fresh vegetables and whole grains.

      1. Not supermarkets, but lots of corner markets are like that, little stores that have mainly cans and boxes and maybe a couple refrigerators. There are tons of those in city neighborhoods.

        Most of those will not be able to participate in this anymore then, if that is indeed true. Which.. is silly, why stop someone from helping someone on WIC, just because they don’t have vegetables but have formula?

  16. Yeah, like Rhywun pointed out, these are vouchers, not dollar amounts. Given that setup, requiring participants to choose the least expensive item for specific nutritional content is pretty appropriate.

    And I’m assuming that they toyed with a dollar benefit idea, but without tracking item purchases they can’t ensure that the Leaders of Tomorrow get the nutrition they need. Cuz, you know, the po’ mothers might just blow their WIC check on cheese.

    1. Except that they could just set a maximum dollar amount and go with that. Some states do set a maximum dollar amount on the card. (They mostly use electronic cards now, at least in my area.)

  17. PC|10.1.09 @ 1:16PM|#

    Would anybody care to guess what this “public option” has done to formula prices?

    You can read the most recent report here.

    They’ve got dozens of these studies.
    WIC was one of those things I used to cover. In short, yes, there are clear market distortions. Managing their WIC vs Non-WIC portfolios was something that both the food and formula (read: drug companies like Wyeth & Abbot labs) had trouble managing effectively.

    The reason for why some foods were covered and others not is maybe not as brazenly stupid or conniving as it may seem, but yes, there’s likely a bit of that as well. In short, Id say the program has some obvious problems, but the more you look at it, the less patently ridiculous it may appear. Maybe.

  18. Seems to me like the fundamental premise of the voucher program is that poor people are too fucking stupid to feed themselves, and so they need vouchers only for the Right Foods to manage this difficult task.

    1. The fundamental “premise” is that poor mothers are going to spend their grocery budget as frugally as possible. The items on the WIC checklist were chosen to ensure that certain nutrients could be included in a child’s diet even though they aren’t on the list of items a mother might consider essential.

      It’s a highly successful program.

      1. Yes. I know from experience how hard it is to get a pregnant woman to eat cheese.

  19. “When I was young, my grandmother convinced me that brown eggs were tastier. Now I just wonder what route they took through the hen.”

    -Scott Adams

  20. When I click “reply to this” nothing happens. WTF???

    1. It’s just you.

  21. I suppose theoretically that if such a program is going to exist, I’m not wholly opposed to requiring off-brand choices, and excluding the pricey Weight-Watchers’ lowfat cheeses, but it does seem a bit byzantine and ripe for corporate favoritism.

    And I’m confused at the contention that peanut butter is excluded.

  22. And I’m confused at the contention that peanut butter is excluded.

    I can’t see where that contention was made.

  23. We actually were on WIC a few years ago. It might be different elsewhere but here in CA most stores that take WIC will show which products are WIC eligible by having special tags next to the prices. You don’t really have to worry that much about being able to buy brown eggs or organic juice with WIC because after formula for the month you’re not really left with that much.

    1. special tags next to the prices

      Do the tags read: I am poor. ?

  24. The reimbursements from USDA are meshugganah.

    I worked with juvenile offenders who, as part of their education, planned and cooked their own meals. We were reimbursed by the USDA program that pays for school lunches.

    Tomatoes and lettuce could not count as vegetables or fruits unless served together. Onions and pepers were never vegetables. Bacon was not considered a meat. You had to provide each kid with an 8 oz. glass of milk (or dairy equivalent in cheese) at breakfast and lunch–probably because some congressmen was in the pocket of Big Dairy.

    The same rules even applied when we took camping trips, meaning we have to backpack with pounds of velveeta to meet out milk requirements.

    We might have been better off hiring the kids out as a work crew once a week and using the proceeds to order pizzas.

    1. UGH, 2 glasses of milk a day? Sign me up for the cheese option.

      /doesn’t “Got Milk”, *wretch*

  25. Red peppers and tomatoes are two of the best things you can eat. Friggin’ government.

  26. Apparently the government wanted the little criminals to learn to cook, just not to cook good food.

  27. And I’m confused at the contention that peanut butter is excluded.

    I can’t see where that contention was made.

    The title says that poor people don’t get to eat peanut butter or cheese. And the pamphlets give guidelines on kinds of PB that are acceptable. Although the idea that PB other than Skippy is even food seems to be pushing it.

  28. Yeah, preview button.

  29. This title?

    “Poor People Get to Eat Veggies, Not Just Peanut Butter and Cheese”

    Seems to be saying that poor people no longer have to eat just Peanut Butter and Cheese, they can now eat Veggies too.

    Or am I reading it wrong?

    1. I’m gonna go with a case of rapid-reading-dyslexia, cause that’s the only way i can interpret it.

      See, all you gotta do is get the “not” and the “just” mixed up, as so:

      “Poor People Get to Eat Veggies, Just Not Peanut Butter and Cheese”

  30. One of my heroes was the NYC woman who would give panhandlers a twenty and tell them sternly, “Don’t buy food; buy booze.”

  31. And just why do they call you lunchstealer, anywa…

    Hey, where did my ham sandwich go?

  32. The coldest hearted libertarians (among whose number I count myself) would likely put the abolition of aid to poor babies and nursing mothers at the end of the To Do list.

    I’ll go for ending WIC first? I guess you never had to stand in line behind some welfare brood mare yelling and cussing because she can’t “buy” imitation cheese slices or artificially ham-flavored dried beans with her voucher.

  33. Isaac,

    It was nationalized.

  34. Remember name, email, and website on this computer for 30 days?

    Thirty days? Can I change my mind?

  35. Um. Yes. Ummm… I was confused by the change in font?

    I didn’t touch your ham sandwich. I don’t eat pork that isn’t in either ‘pulled’ or ‘bacon’ form. Or ‘chop’ form. Or ‘roast pork tenderloin’ form.

    OK, I just don’t really like ham. But you might want to check the local pawnshops, anyway.

  36. If you don’t put in those exact, specific rules, someone buys their 2 year old a birthday cupcake with the WIC money and then Reason and Limbaugh types go balistic. Coming from here, this is the essence of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  37. Coming from here, this is the essence of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    Technically, for minarchists, if you’re the government, you should expect to be damned if you do, well, most things. Somebody’s gotta point out the flaws in any plan, even if it’s 99% awesome.

  38. “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

    yep, generally happens w/ central planning complex things like the diet of millions… or the money supply. If you do one-size-fits-all nobody’s happy, if you micromanage everybody’s unhappy.

    so just DON’T

  39. Wher I live, “the poor” can now buy their veggies at the Farmer’s Market.

    According to the puff pieces in the local rags, the program is popular.


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