It is a truth of modern day grocery shopping that a bag of apples costs more than a bag of chips. Unfortunately, the cost disparity between healthy and unhealthy foods is a driving force behind what goes into shopping carts – a sad reality for millions of Americans who struggle to afford healthy food.

National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), representing 114 natural food co-ops, believes all people deserve access to and education about healthy and nutritious foods. We applaud the Women, Infants, Children Program (WIC) for its dedication to this same mission. However, we believe the federal government should follow Senator Blanche Lincoln’s example and move forward quickly with WIC, as well as allow for the purchase of healthy organic and natural foods under the WIC program.

WIC provides assistance to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Food co-ops have long been leaders in providing healthy, natural and organic food to the communities in which they operate. Concern for community is one of the principles on which co-ops are based and is something NCGA co-ops take seriously in the food they stock in their stores and in their extensive outreach, education and giving programs. Yet, because of state and federal government restrictions, co-ops are limited in our basic ability to serve WIC grocery shoppers.

WIC provides federal grants to states allowing the distribution of supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education. Currently, each state creates approved lists of foods, typically determined by brand name, that meet predetermined nutritional, pricing and quality criteria. However, many states include explicit prohibitions on access to organic foods within the WIC approved food list used to guide WIC recipients in their food purchases.

States often suggest cost keeps organic off the WIC list. Organic food is free of herbicides and pesticides and synthetic hormones, and is certified as such by the USDA. Farmers and food providers produce it with environmental sustainability in mind, hence the slightly higher prices. Nevertheless, many nursing and health and environmentally conscious moms want that healthier option for their children – and many co-ops and other organic food retailers are willing to discuss price accommodations with WIC customers, if state governments provided that flexibility.

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the bill, but the House must act now before the existing law expires on Thurs, September 30. We must give WIC recipients equal access to healthy foods. The opportunity exists within the pending reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act – which appropriates WIC’s funds – to make it so.

On Aug. 6, shortly after Senate bill sponsor Sen. Lincoln asked the Senate “Is it too much to ask” Congress to act on the Senate version of Child Nutrition Reauthorization before taking a long August recess, the body obliged in passing with a Unanimous Consent measure. The stalled House version – while similar in ambition and with innovative farm to school language – does not mention organics in WIC.

That puts the issue back into consumer hands. Citizens still can write or call their representatives to ask that the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill urge the inclusion of organics within the WIC program.