The Difference Between SNAP and WIC, Plus How To Apply

Young mother with baby boy in front of a supermarket. stock photo
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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are both federally-funded health and nutrition programs. Both programs help low-income families and their children but are discrete entities.

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SNAP delivers a monthly preloaded EBT (electronic benefits) card to recipients, and this card is used to buy food for you or your family. When you see the EBT option at the grocery store, this signals that the store is participating in the SNAP benefits program. A predetermined amount is loaded onto your debit card based on your overall household income for this purpose. 

On the other hand, WIC does not provide a discretionary amount to buy food items. WIC recipients are given a specific card, which is then swiped the same way a debit or credit card is, to purchase items from this list only. Foods are pre-determined, meaning that they are chosen based on nutritional values and USDA standards. Food items include, but are not limited, to infant cereal and other baby foods, fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans, canned fish and tofu.

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A WIC EBT card is an electronic system that replaces paper vouchers with a card for food benefit issuance and redemption at authorized WIC grocery stores. This means that although WIC cards are similar to EBT cards, you cannot use them everywhere. EBT cards can be used anywhere that accepts debit or credit cards as a means of payment. WIC EBT cards though, cannot.  

In addition to food items, through the WIC program, you can get nutritional education, breastfeeding support and referrals. This can include being pregnant, breastfeeding, or being a postpartum woman responsible for an infant or child.

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Eligibility Requirements for SNAP & WIC

To attain SNAP benefits, you need to apply in the state where you currently reside — and meet certain bank balance limits. Households with elderly or disabled household members may be allowed to have a higher bank balance limit.

For the WIC program, you will need to be:

  • Pregnant.
  • Breastfeeding.
  • Postpartum.
  • Have a child under the age of five.

How To Apply For SNAP or WIC

Individual states manage the SNAP and WIC programs. Each state has its own application process, with some offering online applications while others require you to apply in person or by regular mail. 

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To apply for SNAP, you will need to find your state’s Food and Nutrition Service’s office via the state locator map, then contact your state agency.

To apply for WIC, find your state program’s contact information or website through the WIC Directory.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 
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