Participation in the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) welfare program hit a 17-year low in 2017, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The data shows that WIC participation dropped to 7,283,000 in 2017, its lowest level since 2000 when 7,192,000 participated in the program.
WIC is a government grant-funded welfare program that provides food assistance to pregnant and nursing women, infants, and children up to five years of age, according to the USDA.
The program, which primarily focuses on nutrition, began as a pilot program in 1972 under the Nixon administration and became a permanent fixture of the U.S. welfare system in 1974.
Most WIC programs are administered at the state level, and states hand out vouchers that can be used at participating merchants to purchase food.
In 2000, WIC became the third-largest government-funded food assistance in terms of spending and made up 12 percent of government spending on food assistance welfare programs, according to a USDA report on WIC.
According to the report, the increase in WIC enrollment since 2000 can be attributed to an increase in congressional funding toward the program spurred by positive reviews of the welfare program from policy experts.
The amount the federal government spends per WIC recipient also hit its lowest level in ten years. According to the USDA data, the federal government spent an average of $41.31 in food costs for each WIC recipient in 2017.
The last time the government spent less money on each WIC recipient was in 2007 when it spent an average of $39.04 for each WIC recipient.
Government spending on WIC increased as of 2010 when former President Barack Obama was midway through his first term in office.
The Obama administration expanded the WIC program through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 to make more children eligible and allow WIC benefits to be used with electronic transfer benefit (EBT) cards.
Since then, the amount of money the federal government spent on each WIC recipient went up dramatically until the end of Obama’s first term in office.
Government spending per WIC recipient flat-lined for the remaining years of Obama’s presidency and decreased during President Donald Trump’s first year in office.
If Trump’s push to get Americans off entitlements such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program is any indication of things to come, WIC enrollment and government spending on the program could go down even further in 2018.