Recipients of the federal program WIC can expect changes in how benefits are issued each month.
Across the state, North Carolina WIC Programs are moving from a paper-based method of benefit issuance to an electronic benefit transfer system, eWIC. According to Erin Ellis, WIC director for the Sampson County Health Department, instead of paper food instruments, food benefits will be issued into an electronic benefit account and families will use their eWIC card and PIN to access their food benefits at authorized vendors.
“Clients currently receive paper vouchers, but beginning Feb. 19 the Sampson County WIC Program will be issuing eWIC cards that will be similar to a debit card,” Ellis said. “The client is given vouchers to obtain specific healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, low-fat milk and formula for infants.”
According to Ellis, WIC is a federally funded program that serves low income pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5 years. Nutrition education and counseling is provided, along with referrals to health and community resources if needed. Through the program, breastfeeding promotion and support is provided. This program is separate from food stamps.
To be eligible for WIC, the client or their child must live in North Carolina, live in a household with income at or below WIC guidelines, or have a health risk factor based on height or weight and diet and health history.
Having eWIC, Ellis explained, is beneficial to not only the client, but local vendors.
“A client will buy only the foods they need when they shop,” Ellis said. “It will be easier to handle replacement benefits and there will also be a smartphone app the client can use to see if a food is WIC approved.”
As for vendors, Ellis said, “they will be paid faster as payment is directly deposited into their bank account and there is less room for error concerning approved foods, effective dates and benefit amounts, as they will be validated by the system and not cashiers at the time of the transaction.”
As part of the program, each family will be issued one card. Foster children will receive their own eWIC card. Participants buy only the foods they need when they shop, and a receipt will be given that will show the account balance and the dates to buy their WIC foods.
“Clients will not have to keep up with numerous paper vouchers,” Ellis added. “A more efficient process could result in increased participation and fewer no shows in the WIC office.”
A pilot began Oct. 4, 2017 and concluded on Dec. 31, 2017. Sampson County will begin participating in the program the week of Feb. 19.
Local WIC staff will be participating in educational buys at local retailers two weeks prior to implementation of the program, which will allow store personnel to learn more about WIC transactions and certify that the retailer’s system is working properly.
Card safety could present problems if someone loses their card. For that reason, Ellis said they encourage all clients to keep their cards in a safe place and not share their PIN with anyone. Benefits are not replaced if this happens.
The WIC Program is available at the Sampson County Health Department, located at 360 County Complex Road, Suite 200 Clinton. Sampson County residents may apply Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The applicant must meet all the eligibility requirements, which includes: categorical, residential, income, and nutrition risk. For more information about WIC or to make an appointment, please call 910-592-1131.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.