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De-Mystifying WIC

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- "At first I was really overwhelmed," said Melissa Filkins, wife of Senior Airman C.J. Filkins, 28th Communications Squadron radar technician, when it came to starting South Dakota's Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program. "But, it was pretty easy once I got the hang of it."

Mrs. Filkins, along with 200 other families at Ellsworth Air Force Base, participates in WIC, a federal grant program that offers free vouchers for nutritious foods to qualifying families.

Pregnant, nursing or postpartum mothers, and children under 5 years old have to meet the income requirements, can apply to enroll in the program and receive a customized food package.

In addition to providing food, WIC educates parents about nutrition, healthy pregnancies, breastfeeding support and healthy habits for children. WIC currently has an office in the 28th Medical Group, where families pick up vouchers and regularly meet with a dietician to discuss healthy choices and goals for their families.

Sadie Livingston, wife of Staff Sgt. Todd Livingston, 28th Civil Engineer Squadron Airman-dorm leader, said the dietician helped her understand what she should be eating while she was pregnant, and has also helped her choose healthy foods for her son, Jacob, who is 6 months old and just starting on solid foods.

Spouses receive paper voucher checks they can use at the Ellsworth Commissary, or at 14 other authorized WIC retailers in Pennington County, S.D. In 2009, these vouchers had a monthly average value of $167.63 for infants on formula and baby food, $50 to $60 for children under 5 and $50 to $80 for pregnant women and new mothers. Spouses can pick up their vouchers every two months from the base WIC office and meet every six months with consultants on nutritional goals. Mrs. Filkins said "milk alone" saves a significant amount of money. She estimates the program helps her and her two children save at least $100 a month using the program.

Mrs. Livingston noted one of the reasons she chose to go on WIC was to help cover the cost of formula she possibly needed for her son, as a supplement. While WIC offers resources to encourage and educate breastfeeding, parents can receive vouchers to cover the cost of formula, including special formulas such as soy or lactose free, if the baby needs it.

The South Dakota WIC website explains that applicants will provide family income information (LES for military families), identity and residency information, and information about foods eaten. Applicants answer questions about past and current health, have height and weight taken, and take a hemoglobin test, which is a pin prick in the finger; the Ellsworth WIC office has this test done at the 28th MDG lab. Residency requirements for South Dakota WIC are waived for active duty military living in the state. While only new mothers and children can receive a food package, fathers and legal guardians can enroll their children in the program.

If accepted, the participants visit with health professional, Linda Mirehouse, who joined the Ellsworth WIC Office in September after working in the Rapid City WIC office for 10 years, about nutrition education and health needs. These personal meetings take place every six months for all members of the family participating in the program, and also include income verification to make sure the family still meets the requirements. Vouchers can be picked up at the office every one or two months.

Mrs. Filkins and Mrs. Livingston both agreed that using a WIC voucher at the store doesn't take any longer than paying with a credit card or check. However, if participants are issued multiple vouchers that must be used in separate transactions, sometimes it does take longer to check out if they use more than one voucher during a shopping trip.

While the Ellsworth Commissary is an authorized WIC retailer, both women noted that the commissary sometimes doesn't carry their preferred item, or is out of stock, but explain how they have adapted when that happens.

Mrs. Filkins said she usually just skips that item and gets everything else on the check, while Mrs. Livingston said she just uses a different check and waits for the item to come in - or if it's something she really needs, she may go look for it at another store. "The dollar in gas I spend if I have to drive into town is nothing compared to what I save with WIC."

Even with issues that can come up as they use the program, neither women cited any major problems with their enrollment or working with the WIC office, and agree that the vouchers save their families significant amounts of money.

The current WIC income requirements are based according to family size, visit http://doh.sd.gov/WIC/Eligibility.aspx for more information. However, Mrs. Mirehouse said military families can consider that salary, basic allowance for subsistence, clothing allowances, bonuses and spouses' pay all count toward their annual income; while their basic allowance for housing, hazard pay, separation pay and moving allowances do not.

If a family is moving to a new base, WIC can transfer to other states and overseas bases. Mrs. Mirehouse explained that those leaving Ellsworth can get a verification of certification (VOC) to take to the new base to help transfer their enrollment. Unused out-of-state checks must be turned in to the new office and can't be used in other states.

Spouses interested in qualifying for WIC can contact the Ellsworth WIC office at (605) 385-3465. For a current list of WIC foods, visit the South Dakota WIC website at: http://doh.sd.gov/wic/.