WIC and Breastfeeding

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Regardless of what you think about the legitimacy of social welfare programs, it's nice to find one that's somewhat responsible, focused on a real need, and hard to abuse. Food stamp money can cover candy, soda, lobster, and steak. It can be used for entirely name-brand products. It has no regard for whether its funding gets used for expensive or unhealthy products. The WIC program, on the other hand, limits its benefits to foods that contain nutrients that are particularly lacking in the diets of those in the target group. Like most government programs since welfare reform, it requires some earned income or a somewhat reasonable exception from working. It has separated checks for certain kinds of food items with the exact amount of food it will cover and a price limit for the check. It's not hard to get name-brand products for some items as long as you get cheaper brands for some, since the entire check is what matters, but it's usually impossible to get the most expensive products for all the items on a check.

It's therefore more than a little disappointing to see people issuing false charges against the WIC program merely to score points for a more general political thesis (one that in general I think is at least in the right direction). David Freddoso of The National Review Online claims that WIC's provision of formula for infants is encouraging moms not to breastfeed. Anyone actually familiar with WIC would know that this is stupid. WIC provides free food for moms who breastfeed, and those who get formula can't get that. Once the baby is born, the mom goes off the WIC program unless she breastfeeds. How exactly does that encourage using formula? WIC does provide something for such infants so that they do get something, but the benefit of food for the mother only comes if she breastfeeds.

Also, no one on the WIC program can get their checks without hearing constant reminders by WIC dieticians at every visit that breastfeeding is healthier and without seeing the ever-present posters throughout WIC clinics recommending breastfeeding. It's ridiculous to claim that WIC is encouraging the use of formula merely because they provide it as an option to those who don't follow their recommendations. Their recommendations are so very clear to anyone who has ever visited a WIC office. Those on the WIC program are largely from the group that is least likely to breastfeed, and the WIC program has been targeting this group with the message of the benefits of breastfeeding.

But Freddoso (and his supporters in the comments here) seem to want to pretend that they don't do that in order to treat all government programs as if they can't ever do anything right. Whatever you think about tax money used for social welfare, it isn't a good idea to criticize such programs as ineffective or as causing the wrong results if you've got the facts wrong and that programs is actually doing what you would prefer them to do (given that there are going to be such programs, anyway).


Agreed, Jeremy. Our family has benefited from WIC, and I can vouch for the emphasis on breastfeeding. In addition to the incentives you mention, my wife had to go to a class where they promoted and taught breastfeeding.

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