Business / Economy

Changes coming to state’s nutrition program

In San Benito County, WIC vouchers will be replaced with EBT cards in February 2020.

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San Benito County residents enrolled in the state’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program will no longer need to conduct transactions using checks or vouchers beginning in February 2020. Instead, WIC recipients will be given an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card to make the grocery shopping process easier for them as well as merchants. EBT cards are now used in California by recipients of CalFresh and unemployment benefits.

WIC is a nutrition program administered by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) that distributes approved food to children under five years old and pregnant women.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age 5 are eligible. They must meet income guidelines, a state residency requirement, and be individually determined to be at ‘nutritional risk’ by a health professional.”

California is expected to roll out the new benefit disbursement process in 10 waves based on geographical area starting in August. The pilot stage begins May 6 in Napa and Solano counties.

San Benito County is part of the eighth wave scheduled to begin next Feb. 18. According to the CDPH, factors used in determining the rollout schedule include weather, holidays, facilities for training, staffing and training and enrollment size.

The WIC program will also feature a free phone app that allows beneficiaries to scan a product’s barcode to verify if it’s included in the new guide to approved purchases that goes into effect April 2. The app will be available at the start of the pilot wave in May.

Local WIC staff will be trained on the new system via computer or by attending a training session a month before going live, according to the January edition of WIC News.

Although the WIC card will be new to California, the technology is used across the nation. Wyoming was the first state to implement it in 2002, followed by New Mexico in 2007, according to the USDA.

There are 13 other states in the process of implementing the WIC card before the federal deadline of Oct. 1, 2020.

According to federal data, 88,000 people participated when the program was first permanently authorized in 1974. For the first five months of fiscal year 2018, about 7 million people received benefits from WIC, while 7.3 million did so in fiscal year 2017. Of those who received WIC benefits in 2017, 3.76 million were children and 1.79 million were infants.

Participation numbers gradually increased, peaking in 2010 at 9,175,000. Since 2014 participation has fallen from about 8.2 million to 6.8 million.

California reflects the national trend of decreasing reliance on WIC benefits since 2014; participation dropped statewide from about 1.3 million to 1 million.

San Benito County WIC did not respond to multiple requests for local data.

Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.