September 20, 2013
Jennifer Miller, 608-266-1683

State Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program Receives $2.7 Million to Implement Electronic Benefits Transfer System

Online Process Will Enhance Fraud Detection, Accountability and Efficiency

MADISON-The state Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will receive $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service to transition to an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system, replacing the paper food vouchers currently used at grocery stores with a swipe card similar to a credit or debit card, state health officials announced today.

"By bringing online EBT processing into the WIC program, we provide additional tools to improve accountability and program monitoring, reduce errors and make it easier to detect and prevent fraud," said Kitty Rhoades, Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary. "In doing so, we make sure that program resources reach those who truly need nutrition assistance for healthy pregnancies and healthy child development."

A DHS study concluded that moving from the current paper benefits voucher system to an EBT system will improve WIC processing for grocery stores, pharmacies and WIC participants by improving customer service, enhancing fraud and abuse detection, and reducing confusion about which items are authorized for purchase. Grocery stores and pharmacies are important partners in implementing EBT, Rhoades said, and DHS will work closely with them during development and implementation.

The program provides prescribed nutritious foods and nutrition and breastfeeding education to low- and moderate-income women and their children up to age five at risk of developing nutrition-related health problems. Under an EBT system, WIC participants will continue to receive the same foods, nutrition education and support they receive currently.

In Wisconsin, 70 local WIC projects serve 113,000 participants in 71,000 households, and there are 1,200 WIC-authorized grocery stores and pharmacies. On average, women participate in the program for 13 months. Eligible children who participate in WIC are more likely to receive regular preventive health care, show improved cognitive development, have increased diagnosis and treatment of childhood illnesses, and receive recommended immunizations.

Nationally, WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of low birthweight babies by 25 percent and very low birthweight babies by 44 percent, helping to lower associated medical costs. The average first-year medical cost for a premature/low birthweight baby is $49,033, compared to $4,552 for a baby born without complications.

View more information on Wisconsin's WIC Program.