More Downey residents may qualify for WIC

DOWNEY - Hundreds of infants, children, pregnant teens and teenage moms residing in Downey- young people from families with modest incomes - may soon qualify for thousands of dollars' worth of food checks from WIC. WIC is the name commonly used for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, a federal program that has been providing participants monthly checks for nutritious foods and a wide array of health education benefits since the mid 70s.

These infants and youth were never before eligible for food checks and other WIC benefits because their parents' incomes were too high. The checks will enable parents to purchase a wide variety of nutritious foods at area markets. South Los Angeles Health Projects, which manages 11 WIC centers, is appealing to the entire community to share this information with family and friends, and encouraging parents to apply for WIC if there's a chance their children are eligible. Who are the eligible children? They are infants and youth who have been subscribers of Healthy Families, a California program of low-cost medical, dental and vision insurance.

Parents this spring are receiving letters announcing that their Healthy Families' children are being transitioned to Medi-Cal. This is the result of AB 1494, a bill signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. Downey parents might not realize that as a consequence, many of these former Healthy Families children - not all - will qualify for WIC. The children eligible for WIC are infants, children up to age 5, and pregnant teens and new moms up to age 19.

The selection of foods is based upon the children's needs, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and parents' preferences. There are no WIC centers in Downey. However eligible residents can receive food checks and other health benefits by visiting a WIC center in nearby South Gate, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Lynwood, Paramount or anywhere else that's convenient.

Heidi Kent, executive director of South Los Angeles Health Projects, says she expects that many Healthy Families participants newly transitioned to Medi-Cal will soon be enrolled in WIC. "We encourage all parents who think they or their children might be eligible for WIC to find out more."

"We are so pleased that more residents will be able to use WIC food checks to buy themselves and their children delicious, healthy foods that they might not otherwise be able to afford," Kent said, "and to increase their food budget for the entire family."

Pregnant women and parents of WIC participants are also offered no-cost nutrition counseling; breastfeeding education and support; group education in parenting skills, health and well-being, and referrals to community services.

"Any infants, children up to age 5, and many pregnant teens and new teenage moms--as long as they have been enrolled in Healthy Families and are now transitioning to Medi-Cal--will automatically be eligible for WIC," Kent said. "It's easy to apply for WIC over the phone or by walking into a local WIC center. This is true in both South Los Angeles and the rest of LA County."

The State of California made the decision to transition Healthy Families subscribers to Medi-Cal independently of WIC. However under an existing WIC statute that applies nationwide, certain people are automatically eligible for WIC benefits when they become Medicaid recipients (or in California, Medi-Cal recipients).

The transition from Healthy Families to Medi-Cal will affect approximately 875,000 individuals statewide. Of these, approximately 145,000 are WIC-age children, pregnant teens and new mothers expected to qualify for WIC benefits. The California Department of Public Health, which manages the WIC Program, has not yet calculated how many youth who reside in Los Angeles County will be eligible for WIC benefits.

South Los Angeles Health Projects is the community services department of Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed).

The public can phone (310) 661-3080 to learn more about WIC eligibility and the locations of all WIC centers in Los Angeles County and beyond.

********** Published: May 2, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 03