Sen. Casey: Extend WIC nutritional food program to six year olds to avoid pre-school gap

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey plans to push legislation that will extend the eligibility for children under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to their sixth birthday.

Vulnerable children who are eligible for WIC age out of the program at 5 years old, when they are expected to enter public school and may qualify for school breakfast and lunch programs. However, depending on the child’s birth date and school, some fall into a nutrition gap — not yet in school but longer qualifying for WIC.

“No child should be placed at a nutritional disadvantage simply because of when their birthday falls,” Casey said Monday in a visit to Allentown.

The legislation also would allow states to certify infants and postpartum women for two years, so WIC can focus on health, nutrition, breastfeeding, immunization and pediatric referral services.

Bette Saxton, president and CEO of Maternal and Family Health Services, Allentown, said about 8,000 families in the Lehigh Valley benefit from WIC. WIC serves more than 7 million people monthly, more than half of them children, the most recent figures show.

Jessica Cruz, program assistant for WIC, said that as a mother of two, she benefited from the program. One of her children is entering kindergarten in August and no longer qualifies for WIC because he reached the age limit in October 2018. Because children born after September 1 do not enter school until the following year, her child will go 10 to 11 months without any nutritional assistance.

On the flip side, some children enter school before their WIC benefits expire. But Casey said he chooses to extend eligibility by age, rather than the date the child enters school, to make sure no eligible child loses access to subsidized food.

To improve the bill’s chances, Casey said he is trying to get a Republican co-sponsor in the GOP-majority Senate.

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