January 19, 2023

Thriving PA Releases Report on WIC Participants and Access to Benefits

Thriving PA has released a report on the results of focus group sessions with Pennsylvania Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program participants.

Entitled, “WIC Participants Encourage Improvements to Remove Barriers to Access,” the report reveals value in key elements of the WIC program and a need to increase program accessibility.


Thriving PA partnered with eight community-based organizations, including Trying Together, to recruit and facilitate focus group sessions. The results in the report are part of a continuous feedback loop with these organizations and session participants.

Summary of Findings

WIC Program Strengths

  • Participants valued information on nutrition and health education provided at WIC clinics during appointments. Information on the breastfeeding program proved especially important.
  • Participants are hopeful the increased monthly produce benefits (resulting from a congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic) will continue even when the public health emergency ends.
  • Participants considered the ability to use vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets as a significant strength of the program.

Barriers to WIC Program Benefits

  • Participants expressed difficulty getting to WIC offices during clinic hours. They included distance, gas prices, and inability to obtain child care as barriers to attending appointments.
  • Because participants must visit WIC clinics to get their EBT benefits reloaded every three months, they describe in-person requirements are challenging.
  • Participants feel the length of certification is too short and annual recertification is too frequent.
  • Participants shared frustrations with the food options that are eligible for WIC, including sizing and diversity restrictions. Participants identified a need for an updated package that meets current nutritional standards.
  • Participants had trouble determining what items were WIC approved in stores and said item identification and checkout need to be addressed to ensure smoother transactions.
  • Participants expressed a desire for improvement in staff interactions at WIC clinics, as well as improved communication.
  • Participants said they felt deterred by the stigma and shame associated with participation in WIC, especially during the checkout process.

Thriving PA Recommendations

  • Make permanent the flexibilities given to the program during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have allowed WIC agencies to adapt to families’ needs, and modernize current technology to provide the best user experience.
  • Advance the transition to an online system as quickly as is feasible.
  • Create a state-specific mobile app that would allow specific benefit information to be open to participants.
  • Integrate WIC into COMPASS, which will allow eligibility and enrollment processes to be much more straightforward and easy for eligible individuals to access benefits.
  • Explore more modern methods for outreach to capture more eligible WIC participants and educate community-based organizations,
    health care professionals, home visitors, and other service providers about the WIC program.
  • Make significant vendor improvements, including care coordination, support for workforce development, federal food package updates, federal eligibility expansion, and federal relaxation of the physical presence requirement.

Learn More

Read the full report to learn more.