New food benefit debit cards work to reduce stigma and improve efficiency
Families and individuals who receive Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program food benefits can now use WIC cards and the WICShopper app when they head to the grocery store.
Washington’s WIC program introduced the new tools earlier this year to reduce stigma, improve efficiency and improve the participants’ shopping experience.
WIC provides eligible families with nutrient-rich foods to supplement their diets. The program is for pregnant women, new and breastfeeding moms, and children under five. About 275,000 participants use the program, which means almost half of all babies in Washington are on the WIC program.
Before the switch, a pregnant mom with a child might have presented one or more checks for herself and separate checks for her three-year-old child at the checkout counter.
But if a check listed five food items, the individual would have to purchase all five items during one shopping trip, or purchase some of them and lose the rest. That’s because the remainder food benefit wouldn’t carry over to the next grocery store stop.
Paul Throne, director of the Department of Health’s Office of Nutrition Services, said the change makes planning and shopping less complicated.
“Now families can buy the food they need when they need it, instead of getting everything on a check at the same time,” Throne said. “We’re pleased with how the cards make shopping easier for WIC families and help kids get access to nutritious meals.”
As of November, the only thing WIC families need to bring to the grocery store is one WIC card.
The card works like a debit card for a more flexible and convenient way to shop. All family benefits are located in one place. And, when the transaction is over, families get a receipt that show what food items they have left for their next trip.
Gov. Jay Inslee and first lady Trudi Inslee have championed efforts to reduce food insecurity among Washingtonians, especially children. Programs include the Fruit and Vegetable Program, Breakfast After the Bell program, updated WIC benefit tools and helping homeless students get access to food and showers. Inslee’s Healthiest Next Generation initiative also aims to help more children maintain a healthy weight, be more active and eat well.
“This rollout of new WIC tools for low-income families is about increasing access to nutritional food while decreasing perceived stigmas or prejudice as they use their food benefits in a grocery store checkout line,” Inslee said. “This is really about feeding kids and making sure that what they get is healthy and nutritious.”
Throne said it’s important that the cards let families buy WIC foods in the same way they buy their other groceries.
“Families using WIC deserve the best service we can give them,” Throne said. “WIC Cards are a game-changer. After the switch, we heard from multiple participants that they appreciated how much faster and smoother transactions were for families, cashiers and other shoppers in line. One participant said people don’t get mad about waiting in line behind them anymore because the process is so much faster.”
Angel, a WIC participant in Bremerton, received the card in March during a pilot phase when Kitsap County WIC clinics tested out the new electronic system.
“I love the card,” Angel said. “I buy what I need when I need it. It’s ‘waste not, want not’ at its best.”
Shane, a Port Orchard participant, said the card makes the shopping experience fast and easier to get what’s needed without using an entire check. Another participant in Silverdale, named Athena, said the number one thing they appreciate is how much more discreet the card is versus the checks. Reducing stigma around food benefits is a huge benefit to the WIC cards.
In addition to the new card, the WICShopper app allows families to scan food items to see if they are WIC approved. The app helps shoppers see what food items are still available on their monthly benefit and find WIC clinics and approved stores. For example, a shopper can use the app to see how many loaves of bread they have left to purchase in a month. It also features recipes using WIC foods and tips to stay healthy.
The WIC program also offers parents health screenings, nutrition education, breastfeeding support and important referrals to other health and social services.
Many Washingtonians who are eligible for the program are currently not enrolled. Learn more about WIC eligibility on DOH’s website.