New York State Announces Easing of Requirements to Ensure WIC Recipients Receive Food or Infant Formula Benefits

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 8, 2012) - State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H. announced today that certain requirements in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program have been temporarily relaxed for participants from areas affected by Hurricane Sandy to ensure that families in the program have access to infant formula and nutritious food. In addition, the State has received an order of powdered and ready-to-use infant formula from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that will provide for the needs of 21,800 infants for one month as regular supply chains recover from the storm.

"By temporarily suspending some WIC requirements, families will be able to obtain vital food and infant formula for their children during the recovery effort," Commissioner Shah said. "As the State works to get organizations, businesses and services up and running, we are taking action to limit any delays families may experience in receiving their WIC benefits."

The WIC program provides services to more than half a million people statewide. While a majority of New York State WIC clinics are open, six local WIC sites in New York City and on Long Island have had to cease operations as a result of Hurricane Sandy, and other sites are only operating in a limited capacity. Participants should call their local agency first to ensure they are able to provide services. If a local WIC office is closed, participants can receive assistance at another WIC agency. The State Health Department has enabled the State WIC help desk to rapidly transfer WIC participants to a different local agency if their normal agency is not operating. In addition, WIC participants in communities affected by Hurricane Sandy whose checks have been lost or destroyed during the storm may request replacement checks by contacting their local WIC agency.

In addition, due to power outages and disruptions in the delivery chain, some grocery stores and vendors are having difficulty receiving supplies that WIC families can purchase, including bread, milk and cheese, fruits and vegetables. Families experiencing disruptions in obtaining WIC benefits due to Hurricane Sandy should call the Growing Up Healthy Hotline at 1-800-522-5006.

At this time, three regional food banks have been designated as receiving sites for the infant formula from FEMA, which began arriving Wednesday, November 7th: Long Island Cares, Inc. – The Harry Chapin Food Bank, Hauppauge; Food Bank for NYC (Food For Survival, Inc.), Bronx; and Food Bank for Westchester, Inc., Elmsford. The food banks will coordinate distribution through their normal emergency food networks including food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens. Additional venues, such as disaster recovery centers and emergency departments are being evaluated as potential infant formula distribution sites. The WIC program continues to advocate breastfeeding as the healthiest and safest way to provide food for an infant, especially in a disaster, and the emergency formula should only be used for currently formula fed infants.

To assist local WIC agencies serve the needs of their clients during the storm recovery, the State Health Department has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that WIC participants will be allowed to:

  • Partially redeem WIC checks if not all the items listed on the check are available. This will be in effect in New York City, Nassau County and Suffolk County through November 25, and in Westchester, Putnam, Rockand and Orange counties through November 10;
  • Substitute certain foods -- milk, bread, cheese and peanut butter - if WIC brand or specified package sizes are not in stock. This policy will be in effect from November 8-November 25 in New York City, Nassau County, and Suffolk County; and
  • Use ready-to-use infant formula in areas with water supply issues.

Under temporary exemptions granted by the State, local WIC agencies may:

  • Mail checks if transportation issues prevent the beneficiary from coming in to the WIC agency;
  • Certify applicants to receive benefits even if their child is not physically present at the WIC agency site; and
  • Tailor food packages, including ready-to-feed formula, and other shelf stable foods, to reflect that some people may not have access to their homes or may continue to experience power and water issues.

The following links and contacts contain helpful information on locations in each community where families can go to obtain infant formula and other food: