Health and Family Services Cabinet
Federal, State Officials Visit Kentucky to Celebrate WIC Project; Pilot Project Successfully Tests Electronic Benefit System for Nutrition Program
FRANKFORT, KY (Dec. 18, 2009) - Federal and state officials, including United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton, visited Glasgow and Bowling Green today to recognize the ongoing efforts of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the Barren River District Health Department in establishing an improved system for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
The project, which uses electronic benefits transfer (EBT) for WIC purchases, is undergoing a test run in the Bowling Green and Glasgow markets. The project is designed to test the technology, methods and infrastructure for an online, integrated WIC EBT system that could be used on a national level.
“Kentucky’s outstanding work in this area is critical to the success of WIC EBT everywhere and clearly is a winner for the state, participants and food vendors,” said Thornton. “Offering EBT cards gives families needed access to benefits without the delay and stigma of paper vouchers.”
The visit included a presentation to demonstrate how WIC benefits are issued, a news conference and a demonstration at two Bowling Green grocery stores. For the demonstrations, officials visited a Houchens-owned Save-A-Lot and a Wal-Mart, using the EBT cards to simulate making WIC purchases.
“This is a tremendous achievement for Kentucky public health and the Barren River District Health Department. We are extremely grateful to our local WIC staff, vendors and clients in Warren and Barren counties who participated,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “We are building the future of the WIC program.”
Traditionally, WIC clients have purchased approved items, such as milk and baby formula, using paper vouchers. Participants are issued multiple vouchers for use in authorized stores to purchase WIC-approved items. All items listed on a check must be purchased at one time or the benefits are lost.
With a WIC EBT card, benefits are stored in an electronic household account, so each item may be purchased individually when the participant chooses without losing benefits. The system automatically identifies WIC-authorized items and verifies purchases. Also, the EBT card makes the purchase process identical to all other shoppers, improving program confidentiality and speeding checkout.
In addition, the project helps ensure that retailers allow participants to purchase only WIC authorized foods and in the correct quantities, while removing the margin of cashier error during WIC transactions.
“By integrating into retailers’ automated systems, clients can swipe their WIC EBT cards along with other methods of payment. Not only can clients shop confidentially, but they also can make small – even one-item – purchases, which they haven’t been able to do under the traditional WIC system,” said Health and Family Services Cabinet Secretary Janie Miller.
Kentucky and its technology contract Custom Data Processing, have developed and tested the use of online technology for WIC EBT, piloting the project first in Glasgow and then Bowling Green with the intention of going statewide launch. The western Kentucky sites were chosen for their capability to test multiple types of vendors from small locally owned retailers to large chain stores.
“The new WIC EBT process provides assurance the participant receives the correct food products and increases their shopping flexibility. From a retailer’s perspective, the new transaction processing provides accuracy and efficiency that is necessary in today’s fast paced retail environment,” Susan Tweedy, Houchens Foods Group Project Coordinator.
The system currently being tested is designed to be affordable and easily transferable to all states and vendors of all sizes.
To date, approximately 4,800 WIC clients and 27 authorized food vendors are participating in the pilot project, which began Aug. 11. It is funded through a $4 million USDA grant.
WIC is a short-term intervention program designed to influence lifetime nutrition and health behavior in high-risk populations. The program serves 146,000 Kentuckians.
Funded by the USDA, WIC offers nutrition education and services; breastfeeding promotion and education; monthly food prescription of nutritious foods; and access to maternal, prenatal and pediatric health-care services. For more information, visit http://www.chfs.ky.gov/dph/mch/ns/wic.htm.