The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helps ensure women and their children have healthy and nutritious foods. Food stamps are awarded through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Although the goal of both programs is to help low-income people purchase groceries, there are distinct differences between WIC and SNAP. If you meet the eligibility requirements for each program, you can receive both WIC and SNAP.
WIC is a federal supplemental nutrition program available only to pregnant women, women who recently had a baby, breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age 5. Income limits are set by the state, but range from 100 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. If you're eligible to receive SNAP or Medicaid, you're automatically eligible for WIC.
Each state agency publishes a WIC-approved food list. States generally allow cow's milk or soy milk, juice, cheese, tofu, eggs, canned fish, peanut butter, dry beans or lentils, fruits and vegetables, whole grain cereal, infant cereal, formula and baby food. Each state sets its own size restrictions and price limits for the items, which vary. For example, in New York, you must buy the least expensive milk and eggs in the store. The foods you can purchase are determined by the age of the child and whether you are pregnant, postpartum or breastfeeding.
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Unlike WIC, SNAP is open to low-income families and individuals, regardless of gender or age. Applicants need to meet income and assets tests. The gross monthly income is limited to 130 percent of the federal poverty level for household size. Countable assets, such as cash or bank accounts, are limited to $2,250. If someone in the household is over 60 years of age or disabled, the asset limit is $3250. For able-bodied adults, certain work requirements must also be met in some states.
SNAP benefits can be used to purchase a variety of foods, without size limits or price restrictions. Recipients receive a specified amount each month and can purchase groceries at their discretion. Under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, soft drinks, some types of energy drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, chips and ice cream are classified as eligible food items. You can also purchase seafood and steak. You can't buy pet food, supplements, vitamins, tobacco, alcohol or hot prepared foods.
Both WIC and SNAP benefits are deposited electronically onto an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. You can use benefits by visiting a participating store that accepts EBT. Swipe your card and select the EBT option to pay for your items. You'll need to choose either WIC or SNAP from the list of options. If you're using WIC and SNAP, you can either separate your items or select WIC first to pay for the qualifying items and then swipe your card again and select SNAP to cover the rest of the eligible foods.
Applying for Benefits
Although WIC and SNAP are federal program, states administer the programs through local agencies. You'll need to contact your local WIC and SNAP agency to apply. Since you may be automatically eligible for WIC if you are approved for SNAP, you may want to apply for SNAP first if you're pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding an infant up to 1 year old or have children under the age of 5. Generally, WIC and SNAP offices can be found in the same locations. Your department of health, social services, family services or public health may administer the program in your area. The USDA provides a list of WIC and SNAP office locations.