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USDA expands the WIC food assistance scheme to include fresh fruit and veggies

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on Friday the expansion of its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Under the program, around 9 million low-income women and children (as well as pregnant women) receive vouchers for basic food items, including bread, milk, cheese, baby formula, and eggs. Under the newly-finalized ruling, the USDA will be broadening that list to include fresh, frozen, and tinned fruits and vegetables. The changes, incidentally, tie into the WIC's forty-year anniversary, heralding the first significant amendments to the food assistance scheme.

The shift began in 2007, when an interim policy allowed mothers the option to buy fruit and veggies. In 2009, fruit juices were largely eradicated from infant food packages, foods high in saturated fats were reduced, and a greater push towards fruits and vegetables continued to be the USDA's focus. The latest changes to the scheme include the introduction of whole grain pasta, yogurt, and more types of canned fish (previously, canned tuna was the only option).

Though the reworked scheme also bumps up the allowance by 30 percent, that number amounts to just $2 more per month for each child - already attracting criticism from groups who suggest that the amount isn't enough to warrant a nutritional overhaul for parents and children alike.  Nevertheless, USDA secretary, Tom Vislack, pointed to the revised ruling's good intentions: "The updates to the WIC food package make pivotal improvements to the program and better meet the diverse nutritional needs of mothers and their young children," he said.

Though the new program emphasis the virtues of vegetables, not every veg made the cut. White potatoes are, once again, not covered by the WIC program, in a decision that's angered the potato industry. "The department recognizes that white potatoes can be a healthful part of one's diet," wrote the USDA. "However, WIC food packages are carefully designed to address the supplemental nutritional needs of a specific population."

The revised WIC food package will be implemented in stages over the course of the next year. States have a deadline of April 2015 to comply with the changes, though some will be apparent as early as 90 days from now.

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