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NEWARK, Del. - The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) here praised the U.S. Department of Agriculture's move to provide greater access to fruits and vegetables for participants in the federal government's nutrition safety-net program.
Mothers and their children participating in the federal government's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will soon begin receiving vouchers allowing fruit and vegetable purchases for the first time, according to an agency interim rulemaking published Thursday in the Federal Register. Vouchers of $8 will be provided to each participating non-breastfeeding mother, and $6 vouchers to each child; breastfeeding moms will receive $10 vouchers.
The vouchers could be used to purchase fruits and vegetables of all forms, including fresh, frozen, canned and dried; white potatoes are the only produce item that is specifically excluded. (Under the current program, only breastfeeding mothers are allowed to use vouchers to purchase vegetables, and are limited to carrots only.)
As a result of these changes, the percent of WIC vouchers devoted to purchasing fruits and vegetables will increase from 0 percent to 2.7 percent. The value of these vouchers for fruit and vegetable purchases will total $934.3 million from 2008-2012, according to the Federal Register.
"This is healthy news for our nation's nutritionally at-risk mothers and their young children, who will now be able to enjoy more healthy, delicious fruits and vegetables without adding further to their financial worries," said PMA s.v.p. Lorna Christie.
Christie noted PMA's disappointment that USDA excluded white potatoes, however. "Given how hard USDA otherwise worked to ensure that program participants would have access to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in various forms, we're disappointed that they would specifically exclude a popular staple like white potatoes, which is immersed in American as well as other cuisines," she said.
The fruit and vegetable vouchers are one of many changes to the WIC program that are intended to bring the program closer in alignment with the latest federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued in 2005. This rulemaking is the first time that the 33-year-old WIC program's age- and nutritional needs-based "food packages" have been significantly reviewed since 1980.