New parents have so much to do to prepare for a baby. It is not surprising that some little detail along the way may be forgotten, or that something ordered hasn't arrived yet. In the case of a car seat, which is an absolute must for any infant, that can create a lot of problems.
If you, for whatever reason, do not have a car seat yet, you need to have one before you head to the hospital to give birth. The baby will not be allowed to go home with you unless you have a car seat. If things are looking rather grim in terms of acquiring a car seat, or you simply can't afford one, you can get a free car seat from the WIC program. The following will tell you what this program is about and how to get a car seat in time for your new baby.
The WIC Program
If you have never heard of WIC, you should look into it. WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children. It is a state-sponsored health and nutrition program for at-risk mothers and children, offered at the county level. If you walk into your county's Human Services building, there's a very good chance that the WIC office is in the same building. Otherwise you can look up WIC online and find your nearest office.
The program provides pregnant and nursing mothers with extra food, milk, juice, and protein in the form of peanut butter, eggs, tuna and cheese. Nutritious cereals high in folic acid and vitamins are also provided/allowed. The idea is that if the mother is eating healthy and well, her unborn baby will develop better and a nursing baby will receive some of those vitamins via the mother's milk. The program provides for infants and children up to age 5, a time when most kids start school and receive nutritious food at least once a day at school.
If moms aren't nursing, they stop receiving benefit checks for themselves, but the infants receive checks for formula and baby food. Later, the checks also include juice and milk as babies transition from formula to cow's milk. Special checks are cut if a baby or child is allergic to formula or milk.
In some states, additional vouchers are given for fresh fruits and vegetables from a farmer's market. The vouchers are only issued during the growing seasons and farmer's market months. You have to request them in late spring if you want these checks, and you have to look for vendors that display a WIC-approved sign on their stands.
Finally, WIC looks for other ways to keep babies and children healthy and safe. As such, WIC participates in an infant seat program by alerting sponsoring programs that families are in need of an infant seat. You will need to ask your WIC caseworker about this program and how to apply.
The WIC Car Seat Program
A lot of misinformation goes into the car seat program. In most states it isn't WIC that directly supplies the car seats. There are sponsoring programs that supply the seats after a parent that is receiving WIC has requested help with acquiring a car seat. If you qualify for WIC, which is based on your income and Federal Poverty Income Guidelines, then you can ask a caseworker about the program where you live. You should know that in most cases if you qualify for WIC based on income, you qualify for the car seat program.
Depending on your state and county program guidelines, the car seat you request may be one of the following:
If your WIC offers a car seat through a loaner program, be sure to ask how long you are allowed to borrow the seat. It will help you budget and prepare for the time when the seat will need to be returned. Sometimes families can borrow the seat until their baby graduates to the next size seat up.
Steps to Get a Free Car Seat Through WIC
IF your local WIC program offers the free car seat to own, or the free seat to borrow for a specified period of time, there are steps to acquiring the seat.
- 1Ask your WIC caseworker if the program is available in your area.
- 2Request an application for the car seat program.
- 3Apply for the car seat, explaining why you currently do not have your own seat and that you are a recipient of WIC, TANF, FoodShare, etc..
- 4Give the application back to your WIC caseworker who will send it with the correct WIC verification paperwork on to the sponsor of the free car seat program.
- 5Wait for approval and notification of when the seat is ready to pick up.
- 6Follow the directions for picking up the car seat. Sometimes this involves returning to the WIC office to get it, or the program sponsoring and paying for the car seats will ask you to pick up the car seat from their office.
- 7Install your car seat so that it is ready to use when your baby arrives.
- 8If the seat is a loaner and has a deadline to be returned, be sure to return it on time. There is another family in line waiting to borrow the seat for their baby.
It is important to keep in mind that your baby could arrive up to two weeks early in a normal delivery. It could take up to two weeks to get approval for and pick up the car seat. It is smart to apply for the free car seat a month in advance to the due date of your baby.
How to Get a Free Car Seat If You Can't Get One Through WIC
In literally every state there is at least one program that offers free or low-cost car seats to families. That's good news no matter where you live. If you can't get one through WIC, WIC doesn't have any, or you don't qualify for WIC because your income is just slightly above the poverty guidelines to qualify for WIC, these other programs can help. For a helpful link in locating programs in your state that can help, go here.
Hospitals offer a car seat borrowing program too. You are typically allowed to borrow a car seat to take your baby home if you do not have a car seat. There's often a three-day or week limit on borrowing a car seat from the hospital, however. If you don't return it when they ask you to, they typically charge it to your labor and delivery bill.
Charitable organizations in your community, such as United Way, the Salvation Army, or your local church group, will help with baby expenses too. You do have to apply for help. An application process takes a couple of days, and you do not get a choice in the style or type of infant car seat. However, you can't argue with free.
You could check online with places like Facebook Marketplace. However, no car seat you pick up for free should be older than two years. Used car seats sit in hot vehicles and the plastic weakens over time, decreasing the seat's ability to secure and protect your baby. As such, be sure to always ask the owner giving away the car seat how old the seat is. If it is in a box and has never been used, then it is okay if it is older than two years.
Wrapping Things Up
Having a baby is expensive. Nobody is ever really ready for it. If you forgot to buy a car seat or you can't afford one, there are programs that can help. You can get a car seat if you apply for and qualify for WIC, a health and nutrition program offered at the county level. If you get other county and state financial supports, it can help you with getting a car seat free of cost. Very low cost car seats may be another option if you don't qualify for WIC or other programs.
Ask your WIC caseworker for all of the programs for which you may qualify and/or be entitled to as a new and expecting parent. Not only can you get a car seat, but there are also programs that can help with food, diapers, and other necessities. Then you can feel a little more at ease about having a baby.
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