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Thursday, April 26, 2018

WIC program transitioning to EBT payments

By Oct. 1, 2020, all U.S. states, territories and 34 recognized tribal organizations will be required to replace paper checks or vouchers with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for qualified recipients of the federally funded grant program known as WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) for Women, Infants and Children.

Established under Section 17 of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, WIC became a permanent program of the U.S Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service in 1974. According to USDA FNS data, nearly 7.3 million women, infants and children received an average $41.24 in monthly WIC benefits during fiscal year 2017. Benefits were administered by 90 State agencies, which covered more than $3.6 billion in annual food costs.

Under the federal mandate, participants will be able to use reloadable eWIC EBT smart cards at checkout to pay for WIC-approved food purchases at WIC-approved grocery stores, pharmacies and farmers markets. WIC also provides nutrition education, counseling and health screening.

What's at stake?

At present, 19 states and two recognized tribal organizations have begun piloting eWIC programs and are in various stages of full deployment. Another five states, including New York and four U.S. territories, are set to go live in 2018. California, which is in the process of integrating a management information system, plans to pilot its eWIC program in 2019. Other states are expected to proceed in similar fashion before the deadline.

The WIC EBT system is more complex than traditional retail payment systems in that the flow of data involves local and state WIC agencies, WIC participants, financial intermediaries, retailers, EBT processors, product manufacturers, the USDA FNS and the Federal Reserve Bank.

Aware of the complexities involved and an early adopter of EBT as a payment acceptance option for its merchants, First Data Corp., like others, is closely monitoring eWIC adoption in states where it is anticipated that food and pharmacy retailers can better serve this community electronically.

Minneapolis-based Solutran, which has provided payment processing support for WIC programs since 1989 for 72 state and Inter-Tribal Organization WIC Programs across the United States, is another contender in this space. It has contracts to process eWIC payments in Texas and Arkansas. According to Solutran, the firm has processed over 60 million EBT transactions worth over $1.4 billion in food purchased at more than 6,000 retail vendors.

For more details about technical requirements for retailers interested in getting involved in the eWic Program, visit fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/wic/2016-wicebtugm-j150.pdf or for details about the program itself, visit www.fns.usda.gov/wic . end of article

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