WIC now offers paperless option

GLOVERSVILLE — The federal Women, Infants and Children program is now offering a paperless option for families in Fulton and Montgomery counties to shop for WIC foods using an electronic benefits card.

The new eWIC card that will eliminate paper WIC checks has been rolling out across the state since the spring and officially launched in Fulton and Montgomery counties last week.

“The importance of a well-balanced meal cannot be understated, and having access to healthy food is a right for all New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a prepared statement announcing the eWIC expansion. “eWIC will truly transform the lives of those who rely on the WIC program, making it more convenient than ever for New Yorkers to feed their families.”

The eWIC card, similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Electronic Benefits Transfer card, will function like a debit card, making shopping with WIC benefits easier and more discreet.

“We have already heard from grateful families about the difference that the eWIC technology has made in ensuring they have access to nutritious food, without the shame that can be felt holding up a grocery line using an outdated system,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a prepared statement.

Unlike the paper checks that required the items listed on a WIC check to be purchased all at once or not at all, the new eWIC card will allow families to roll over unused benefits from a shopping trip for future purchases later that month, according to WIC program administrator for the counties Stella Zanella.

“You could only purchase what was on the check, but you might not have needed those specific food items at that time,” Zanella said Thursday.

With the card, WIC purchases will no longer have to be made in a separate transaction from other items families are picking up while making a single shopping trip, making it more convenient for families and stores that will also receive payments faster.

Stores in Fulton and Montgomery counties are accepting eWIC cards now and Zanella said there are 2,600 families participating in the program in the two counties administered out of the Fulmont Community Action Agency who will be receiving the cards over the next few months at their next WIC appointment.

“At their next scheduled appointment when they come in we would take them through the process and at that time give them the eWIC card,” Zanella said.

Zanella said paper WIC checks can still be used through their expiration date, but no additional paper checks will be issued to participants in the counties moving forward. For families where more than one person is enrolled, Zanella said all of the benefits will be loaded onto a single card rather than paper checks for each individual.

“I think it’s a positive thing, I think it’s a step up for our participants,” Zanella said. “Say you had three people on the program and it was a mom and two children over a year old, she might leave with 12 paper checks. Now she’ll just be leaving with the card and list of food for the month.”

The state Department of Health, that administers the WIC program, has also launched a new mobile app called WIC2Go that allows users to check their WIC account balance and scan product barcodes to see if items are WIC-approved.

WIC foods include infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, canned fish, soy-based beverages, tofu, fruits and vegetables, baby foods, whole-wheat bread and other whole-grain options to meet nutritional needs.

Low income pregnant women and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to five who may be at nutritional risk, are eligible to participate in the program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has mandated that all states adopt the eWIC technology by 2020. The eWIC card is currently available throughout the Capital Region and will move into the North Country, Central New York, the Southern Tier and Western New York in the fall and winter before moving downstate early next year. WIC serves over 400,000 women, infants and children statewide.

For more information on eWIC, families can visit www.health.ny.gov/wic.

By Josh Bovee

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