WIC program switching to electronic benefits card

ADDISON COUNTY — The estimated 750 Addison County recipients of Women Infants and Children (WIC) benefits will see some major changes in the manner in which they access their benefits, as well as in the variety of foods at their disposal.
Here’s the biggest change: Beginning next spring, the state will end home delivery of WIC food packages and will instead issue an electronic benefits card to clients. Those clients will, as of May 1, 2016, be able to shop for their own WIC-eligible foods at local supermarkets, such as Shaw’s and Hannaford.
“Vermont is the last state to do home delivery of WIC food,” noted Moira Cook, health services director for the Middlebury office of the Vermont Department of Health. “And we are the only state to go directly from home delivery (of food) to an electronic benefits card.”
WIC is a supplemental federal nutrition program that provides food, health care referrals and nutrition education for income-eligible women and their infants and children age five and younger. A household of four, with children receiving Dr. Dynasaur health insurance benefits, that earns up to $75,660 can qualify for WIC benefits.
Clients of this 40-year-old program have received home delivery of nutrition food packages twice per month. Those food packages contain such basics as eggs, milk, cereal, cheese, butter, bread, tofu, tuna, peanut butter and juices. Clients also get an allowance of around $8 per month for fresh vegetables and fruit, according to Cook.
The Vermont Department of Health will use the coming months to aggressively publicize what it is calling the “eWIC” card.
“The eWIC card will be an easy and more convenient way to receive WIC food benefits,” reads a DOH letter to clients. “WIC purchases will be as fast and easy as making a purchase with a debit or credit card. All of the WIC foods for each family member on WIC will be together on one card.”
Cook said the monthly WIC benefit will be approximately $40 per client, along with a separate allotment for baby formula for women who are not breast feeding. Participating stores are updating their scanning/computer facilities to process the eWIC cards. The cards will reject any items that are not eligible for WIC coverage. Clients might be asked initially to separate out their WIC purchases at the cash register of their supermarket until the system has hit its stride, according to Cook.
And clients will be able to choose from scores of different brands of WIC-eligible items, instead of making do with what is delivered to them twice per month.
Cook stressed that the switch to eWIC cards will not affect clients’ other benefits through the program. Clients will continue to have access to counseling and nutrition programs.
The eWIC card change comes at a time when the number of WIC clients is on the decline in Addison County — a trend mirrored in many other parts of the nation, according to Cook. The number of local WIC recipients peaked around seven years ago at 1,000, Cook noted. She cited the state’s declining birth rate, coupled with recent increases in 3SquaresVt (formerly Food Stamps) benefits, as among the reasons for the trend.
“We really encourage families to sign up for WIC if they are eligible,” Cook said. “We have worked hard to maintain our caseload.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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