(L-R): WIC Branch Chief for the Southwest Region Darrell Allen, Cherokee Nation WIC Director Brenda Carter, Cherokee Nation Public Health Administrator Billye Jimerson, Secretary of Natural Resources Chad Harsha, Council of the Cherokee Nation for District 4 Mike Dobbins, Delegate to Congress Kim Teehee, Cherokee Nation Treasurer Janees Taylor, Cherokee Nation Marshal Shannon Buhl and Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden. (L to R) seated: Interim Executive Director of Public Health Lisa Pivec, USDA Under Secretary Stacy Dean, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Speaker of the Council Mike Shambaugh.

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation welcomed Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Stacy Dean on Monday.

During her visit the tribe announced the Community Innovation and Outreach Cooperative Agreement to help strengthen the Women, Infant and Children program throughout the reservation.

The Cherokee Nation was awarded the largest CIAO grant in the country with $1 million over 18 months to strengthen its WIC program and outreach to more families. 

“We are always excited and grateful to be working with our partners at the USDA,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “We’re always trying to find ways to improve our programs and outreach efforts and these new USDA funds will be monumental in not only helping us improve our WIC program, but also improve our reach of the program to more families in need. Earlier this year we launched a program to provide vouchers for WIC participants for healthy fruits and vegetables at area farmers markets and this grant can help grow that program as well.”

In fiscal year 2022, the Cherokee Nation WIC program assisted 14,589 women, 15,751 infants and 29,430 children and had more than $3.3 million dollars in food sales. About 60 percent of WIC participants are Cherokee Nation citizens.

“This is the largest WIC community Innovation and Outreach grant going out in the country and I think that just speaks to the incredible work that the Cherokee Nation already does,” USDA Under Secretary Dean said. “WIC is vital to nutrition security, health and the wellbeing of low-income mothers and children. WIC participants are more likely to have a more nutritious diet and better health outcomes, yet only about half the women, infants and children eligible for this incredible program are participating, so it’s a real priority for the Biden-Harris Administration to reach more eligible families and we’ve got a multi-pronged effort going on. We’ll be launching outreach at the national level. We’ve been providing grants to states and tribes to think about broader systems improvements, but most important to me is making sure we’re supporting community-based efforts, so that WIC is plugging into the community and is being led by community leaders.”

The Cherokee Nation will utilize the CIAO funding to strengthen WIC outreach efforts by:

  • Conducting outreach to Cherokee communities through the collection of baseline data and semi-annual surveys gauging public perception of WIC benefits.  
  • Assessing program progress for WIC benefit clients. 
  • Expanding partnerships to provide training opportunities for staff. 
  • Raising awareness and education of WIC programs within Cherokee communities. 
  • Boost WIC Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which was announced in May.

The Cherokee Nation received a separate $244,000 grant from the USDA in May to offer the innovative farmer’s market voucher program.

The vouchers will give WIC participants an additional $30 for farmers markets in Cherokee Nation communities. The vouchers will be available this summer.

The Cherokee Nation is also set to soon roll out its First Steps to Hope program, a pilot project funded by the tribe’s ARPA dollars as a result of the Upward Mobility Task Force.  The project is dedicated to reducing adverse effects of poverty in Cherokee children and will invest in eligible Cherokee Nation citizens who are pregnant and in the WIC program. 

USDA Under Secretary Stacy Dean speaks with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Cherokee Nation Delegate to Congress Kim Teehee at today’s visit.

Those eligible for the First Steps to Hope program will receive a monthly $400 economic support payment for up to 18 months or until the child turns one year of age. 

“Our WIC program serves so many Cherokee families and has always been a priority to the tribe,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “It’s a blessing that we can come together with the USDA and expand our WIC efforts. These efforts will not only improve our WIC program, but will help improve so many Cherokee lives that utilize the program. I’m excited to see the progress to come.” 

Cherokee Nation WIC offers personalized nutrition and health assessments, a personalized nutrition care plan that includes nutrition counseling and other educational activities, a personalized breastfeeding assessment and support and an eWIC card to buy healthy foods.

Guidelines to be a WIC participant include:

  • Living on the Cherokee Nation Reservation, individuals do not have to be Native American. 
  • Have a nutritional need. 
  • Are a child under five, or a pregnant or breastfeeding woman or a woman who has recently been pregnant. 
  • Have a family income less than WIC guidelines. 

For more information on the WIC program and the services offered, visit https://www.cherokeepublichealth.org/tiles/index/display?alias=WIC