Enhancements to WIC program will benefit participants and state

This past November, the Commonwealth of Virginia introduced a new system to manage eligibility and business functions for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), while simultaneously transitioning from a paper voucher system to an Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT card, system.

newspaperVirginia is the first state in the nation to implement a new management information system and EBT at the same time,” said State Health Commissioner Cynthia C. Romero, MD, FAAFP. “The federal Healthy and Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandates all states to transition to EBT by 2020 and Virginia is more than six years ahead in meeting this goal.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) initially launched the pilot project in the Crater Health District (Hopewell, Prince George, Surry, Sussex, Greensville, Emporia, Dinwiddie and Petersburg). Following this successful start, the statewide rollout will begin in March and continue through May.

WIC clients and providers in the Crater Health District have already begun to see the benefits from this new system,” said Crater Health District Director Alton Hart, MD, MPH. “It eliminates paper vouchers for clients, allows stores to be more rapidly reimbursed and most importantly helps us track the nutritional needs of our clients and identify nutritionally at-risk children.” The new system also allows WIC participants to see easily in real-time what specific food benefits they have, while helping them engage in nutrition conversations about healthy food choices.

The EBT works similarly to a debit card. Instead of carrying multiple paper vouchers to a grocery store, participants need only carry their WIC EBT card. Benefits are pre-loaded onto the card, allowing store computers to identify WIC-approved items based on scanned product codes.

In addition to the new electronic system, Virginia has implemented a management information system (MIS) called Crossroads, to manage the WIC program. This new system replaces the former MIS, which had become obsolete. Crossroads certifies new participants, tracks participants’ nutritional needs, transfers benefits directly to the EBT cards and issues benefits.

This new system is a prototype for other large states across the nation. Those states will be able to take the VDH model and adapt it to suit their specific needs without having to start from scratch.  “VDH takes seriously the needs of women and children in our state,” said Romero. “It is a great honor to know that the hard work that has taken place here in the Commonwealth of Virginia will benefit women and children around the country.”

WIC is a public health nutrition program designed to influence lifetime nutrition and health behaviors.  The program serves low- and moderate-income pregnant women and their children up to age five who are at risk of developing nutrition-related health problems. WIC currently serves 158,000 participants in Virginia.

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