3 Key Differences Between SNAP and WIC

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  • SNAP and WIC both help low-income households buy healthy food.
  • SNAP is aimed at all households that meet certain income and asset requirements.
  • WIC is aimed at pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under 5.

Find out if you qualify for either -- or both -- these important food assistance programs.

SNAP and WIC are important food benefit programs that help low-income families buy healthy food. Both are funded by the government and operated at a state level. But there are differences in how each one works, including who can claim them and what goods they can be used for.

SNAP and WIC are different programs

The main difference between SNAP and WIC is that one aims to help all low-income households, while WIC is targeted at pregnant or postpartum women and young children. It's good to know that you can receive both SNAP and WIC benefits at the same time.

Here's how the two break down side by side:

Characteristic SNAP WIC
Full name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children
What it does Provides funds for low-income individuals and families that are used at stores to purchase nutritious food Safeguards health of women and young children by:
Providing nutritious foods to supplement diets
Giving information on healthy eating
Providing screening and health and welfare referrals
Participation in 2022 Over 41 million people Over 6 million people
Data source: USDA

1. SNAP and WIC have different eligibility requirements

SNAP is a broad program aimed at all low-income households. The main eligibility requirement is your gross and net income, but there are also restrictions on the amount of money you can hold in your bank account. Broadly speaking, the gross monthly income threshold is 130% of the federal poverty line, which is lower than WIC requirements.

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Min. to earn
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The biggest difference is that only pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 are eligible for WIC. Fathers and guardians can also enroll their under-5-year-olds in the program. To receive WIC benefits, you need to:

  • Be deemed at nutritional risk by a health professional: Screening is free, but you'll need a doctor, nurse, or nutritionist to confirm you are at nutritional risk. This could be for medical or dietary reasons.
  • Meet income requirements: Gross income must be at or below 185% of the U.S. poverty limit. Right now, a family of four earning less than $51,338 a year would qualify. If you already receive SNAP or Medicaid, you may be automatically eligible for WIC.
  • Live in state of application: WIC is operated locally and you need to reside in that state or local area to participate.

If you think you might be eligible, use the WIC prescreening tool for more information.

2. You can buy different things with them

SNAP benefits are transferred to an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card in various stores. Broadly speaking, SNAP money can be used toward most food items, including fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, bread, cereals, and non-alcoholic drinks. SNAP benefits can't be used to pay for alcohol, medicine, and non-food items such as pet food and cleaning supplies. 

In contrast, there's a strict list of WIC-eligible foods. The program even sets out what types of each food -- such as cereal, bread, juice, or cheese -- will qualify. That list changes depending on whether you're a woman, infant, or child. In some states, you can use an app to identify WIC-approved products. Others have apps that scan items and tell you if they pass the WIC test. WIC payments are made to a WIC EBT card, which is similar to the SNAP EBT card.

It's worth knowing that both EBT and WIC purchases can qualify for rewards with some cash back apps

3. WIC benefits don't roll over from month to month

According to the WIC EBT card website, you might receive up to three months' worth of WIC benefits at one time. However, you need to use each monthly allotment that month as it will not roll over. 

In contrast, the USDA says unused SNAP benefits get carried over to the next month. There's one caveat: If you haven't used your EBT at all across a whole year, you'll lose all your SNAP benefits from the account.

Bottom line

If you don't qualify for SNAP, the difference in income requirements means you may still be eligible for WIC assistance. Caring for an infant can put a lot of pressure on many families' budgets and WIC may mean more nutritious food for you and your children.

SNAP benefits have been in the headlines recently because the end of extra emergency allotments meant a steep drop in income for many U.S. families. If you're in that boat and are pregnant or have young children, WIC assistance may go some way to bridge the gap.

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