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The state Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is transitioning to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system, replacing the paper food checks used at grocery stores with a swipe card similar to a credit or debit card, state health officials announced. The new system is called eWIC (PDF, 3.7 MB).
“By bringing online EBT processing into the WIC program, we provide additional tools to improve accountability and program monitoring, reduce errors and make it easier to detect and prevent fraud,” said Kitty Rhoades, Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary. “In doing so, we make sure that program resources reach those who truly need nutrition assistance for healthy pregnancies and healthy child development.”
The move will improve WIC processing for grocery stores, pharmacies, and WIC participants by improving customer service and reducing confusion about which items are authorized for purchase. “Grocery stores and pharmacies are important partners in implementing eWIC and DHS has worked closely with them, providing extensive training on the new system,” Rhoades said.
Rhoades noted that eWIC will help continue the program’s responsible use of taxpayer dollars. According to the National WIC Association, every dollar spent on a pregnant woman in WIC saves up to an estimated $4.21 in Medicaid because WIC reduces the risk for preterm birth by 25 percent and low birth-weight babies by 44 percent, helping to lower associated medical costs. The average first-year medical cost for a premature/low birth-weight baby is $49,033, compared to $4,551 for a baby born without complications.
The program provides prescribed nutritious foods and nutrition and breastfeeding education to low- and moderate-income women and their children up to age five at risk of developing nutrition-related health problems. Under the eWIC system, WIC participants will continue to receive the same foods, nutrition education and support they receive currently.
The eWIC roll-out started in WIC project offices and grocery stores in the western part of the state and will finish in the southeast WIC counties by the end of September. In Wisconsin, 70 local WIC projects serve 110,000 participants in 75,000 households, and there are some 1,200 WIC-authorized grocery stores and pharmacies. On average, women participate in the program for 13 months. Eligible children who participate in WIC are more likely to receive regular preventive health care, show improved cognitive development, have increased diagnosis and treatment of childhood illnesses, and receive recommended immunizations.