The Iowa Department of Public Health is using a $5.3-million grant from the U.S.D.A. to upgrade the system that provides benefits for the Women, Infants and Children or WIC food and nutrition program. Program manager, Brandy Benedict, says they will move away from sending out paper checks to giving participants plastic cards. She says the participants will then use those cards at the grocery store to purchase their benefits.
The transition is similar to the changeover in the Food Stamp Program, which went from the paper food stamps to electronic benefit cards. Benedict says the federal grant will be used to hire a company to develop the electronic system. “We’ve partnered with Colorado WIC so the RFP (request for proposals) is actually posted on the Colorado bid system and the Iowa bid system,” Benedict says.
She says they will begin evaluating the bids around January. While the changeover is similar to what the food stamp program went through, Benedict says there are enough differences that they can’t share the same electronic system. “Their cards actually are very similar to a prepaid credit type card or debit card type card that you can purchase as a gift card. WIC is based on specific products,” Benedict explains.
The WIC system will be designed specifically them. Benedict says, “Our cards have to be set up to house products and UPC’s rather than dollars.” So for example, the WIC cards could be loaded to allow the recipient to receive five gallons of milk, and after they purchased one gallon, the card balance would drop to four gallons. Retailers are then reimbursed for the cost of the milk.
Benedict says the program operates very efficiently right now and the don’t expect to see much in savings from switching to an electronic system versus paper. “The benefits that we’ll see are related to better prevention of fraud since there will be different types of authentication on the cards — which we can’t protect the paper checks in the same way,” Benedict says.
The Health Department says the WIC Program “provides supplemental nutritious foods, nutrition education and counseling to
low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants (up to their 1st birthday), and children (up to their 5th birthday).”
The Iowa WIC Program served approximately 69,159 participants each month last year. The federal government has required all states to shift to the electronic system for WIC by 2020.