Ending the Public Health Emergency
Since early 2020, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency declaration (PHE) has empowered federal programs – including WIC – with important flexibilities to expand access and revise program operations to account for the unprecedented emergency. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, WIC providers particularly employed waivers of physical presence requirements to scale up remote service models nationwide. With WIC more convenient than ever, child participation soared by 12% between the beginning of remote services and fall 2022.
In December 2022, Congress took steps to unwind emergency flexibilities available through the PHE. The end-of-year spending package set end dates for SNAP and Medicaid provisions, narrowing the breadth of PHE-related authorities. Under the agreement, the remaining 32 States that are issuing SNAP emergency allotments – an additional $95 in benefits per SNAP participant – will have to terminate this added assistance. WIC providers are mindful of the reduced household resources for groceries, which may amplify the need for WIC assistance and exacerbate food insecurity.
Starting in April 2023, Medicaid agencies will lose continuous coverage flexibility and have to resume eligibility determinations. As families may not have up-to-date contact information in Medicaid portals or could miss notices of their redetermination, health experts are predicting a significant drop in the share of eligible families served by Medicaid due to increased procedural barriers. WIC providers are positioned to, over the course of the next twelve months, support WIC families in navigating these challenges in remaining on Medicaid.
As pandemic-era flexibilities expire, Congress must be more proactive in integrating lessons learned while operating federal programs in COVID-19. Frontline providers and State agencies innovated significantly to reach families in this time of crisis, and those innovations can continue to modernize federal programs to improve their reach and impact.