The nutrition program for women with infants, and young children, commonly referred to as WIC, is operating through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some recipients say they are having a hard time finding food that is WIC-approved at grocery stores.
Last year, more than 182,00 Illinois residents participated in the program.
Timora Diggins’ receives assistance from the nutrition program. Her son was born premature, and he can only drink the formula Neosure by Similac, which she is struggling to find.
“I have talked to many different managers at the store, and they have told me that the milk is not popular, so they don't order a lot because they can't hold a lot on the shelves,” Diggins said.
The voucher program has many restrictions. Those who receive vouchers can only buy the specific brand or quantity of bread, milk, eggs and other items labeled on the coupons. No substitutions are allowed, and if the items are out of stock, customers are out of luck.
Diggins recommends shoppers who find themselves unlucky at big retail stores like WalMart and Target, to try smaller convenience stores like Dollar General and Family Dollar. The problem is- those stores do not accept WIC vouchers, and they’ll have to pay cash.
Tanya Triche-Dawood is the vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents grocery stores and other shops. She said it’s a challenge to get smaller retail stores to become a part of the WIC program because they would have to adjust their rules and regulations.
She said her association has asked the federal government for some flexibility in what foods WIC recipients can buy.
“They did get a waiver for the milk substitutions, which is great because now it’s allowing folks who are paying with WIC vouchers to be able to purchase milk, or other approved products,” Dawood said.
Dawood said some stores are putting limits on how many cartons of eggs or rolls of paper towel customers can buy at a time, which could help with availability.
But she is also encouraging customers to go back to their regular shopping habits, and not hoard food or other items because it’s hard for manufacturers to keep up with the quick spike in demand.
The program will soon be transferring from paper vouchers, into an electronic program, like other food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.