A federal program that provides food for low-income women and their children is so badly mismanaged in Georgia that state taxpayers could be slammed with a $20 million penalty.
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What is WIC
Established by the federal government in 1974, the $6.5 billion program has enrolled around 9 million impoverished expectant and postpartum mothers and their children up to age five.
WIC is available to those enrolled in Medicaid and families with annual incomes that are less than 185 percent of federal poverty level. For example, a family of four with an income of no more than $42,642 a year could receive WIC benefits.
WIC by the numbers:
From 2009-2012, the annual budget for WIC in Georgia rose from $271 million to $297 million, a $26 million increase. For the same period, participation dropped by 17,785, from 318,308 to 300,523.
Georgia spends an average of $56.05 a month on each WIC participant, the highest of all 50 states. No. 2 is New York, which spends an average of $54.80 a month. No. 3 is Mississippi, at $54.43.
Source: Georgia Department of Public Health and United States Department of Agriculture
How we got the story
Acting on a tip, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined government records on Georgia’s WIC program obtained through an open records request. The AJC interviewed state officials and federal officials about the program and examined the cost of benefits in other states.