The Opportunity Alliance has landed a $710,000 federal grant to operate an outreach program to make immigrants more aware of the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program.

WIC is a supplemental program that provides free food and nutrition education to lower-income pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children up to age 5.

Anna Bullett, WIC program director for The Opportunity Alliance nonprofit in South Portland, said the grant will pay for three employees to work out of the obstetrics and pediatrics department at Maine Medical Center in Portland. The grant also will be used to partner with the Mane Immigrant Rights Coalition and to translate WIC posters and brochures into more languages used by immigrants to Maine. WIC information is often only published in English and Spanish, while many immigrants to Maine speak French, Portuguese or other languages from African countries. Members of the immigrant community – many of whom come to Maine from Africa seeking asylum – often do not know what benefits they qualify for or how to use them.

The immigrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and oppression, often have low incomes and due to federal immigration rules are prohibited from working for the first six months they are in the United States.

“The intent is to make WIC more accessible to those who have language or transportation barriers,” Bullett said. She said WIC benefits can’t be used on any food. It has to meet the nutrition standards of the program. Also, many immigrants are not familiar with the food sold in U.S. supermarkets. “It can be a struggle if you are new to shopping in American grocery stores, and we help them with that.”

A family of four can earn up to $55,500 and qualify for WIC benefits.


Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said in an interview with the Press Herald on Friday that only about 50% of those who qualify for WIC participate. The federal government is using American Rescue Plan Act funding to distribute $16 million in grants to organizations like the Opportunity Alliance to help boost participation.

“We want those who qualify for the program to use the program,” Vilsack said. “There’s a significant population out there, including recent immigrants, who may not understand that they qualify. Every 10% increase in participation is 600,000 more people who are receiving the benefits.”

About 6.9 million Americans receive WIC benefits, including 17,000 Maine people.

Vilsack said the investment in nutrition can pay dividends because low-income children who grow up eating healthy food are more likely to do well in school.

“If they are well-nourished, they can concentrate and learn better,” Vilsack said.


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