BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Over the next year, the Florida Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) program will be changing the way WIC foods are issued to clients from paper checks to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system.
The rollout of the new system is scheduled for Monday, March 3 in Volusia County.
“The WIC program is going high-tech, which means Volusia families will have the opportunity to purchase their nutritious groceries with an electronic card rather than the paper vouchers,” said Dr. Bonnie J. Sorensen, director of the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County. “The electronic WIC benefits will help families make good food choices that connect to better health.”
The federally funded program provides healthy foods, nutrition education and counseling, breastfeeding support, and referrals for health care and community services at no cost.
‘Not as embarrasing’
“The EBT card has to be better, at least for the people behind the ones using WIC checks in line,” Tiffany Jones, a customer shopping in an area grocery store said. “A lot of times I have to wait for the cashiers who act like they can’t read to check off the list and then they are just extremely slow when WIC is involved. Hopefully it will speed things up at the checkout.”
Priscilla Seaborn, who receives WIC benefits in another state, says she likes the card better. “It’s just a swipe, but the cashier doesn’t have to check anything off. If it’s on your list, it scans and if it’s not it doesn’t. And if it’s not on your list, you can still get it, you’ll just have to pay for it.”
“It’s not as embarrassing to use the card either,” Seaborn added, saying that many times people huff and puff behind those using the benefits because it is a time-consuming process. “The checks were outdated. The card brings the program to the 21st century.”
Who is eligible
The WIC offices in Volusia County will be closed through Feb. 28 to allow the system upgrades. The five WIC sites throughout Volusia County will reopen on March 3 and start issuing the new EBT cards. The EBT cards will replace the current WIC paper checks.
There were 19,026 WIC participants in 2013 and 437,342 WIC coupons (known as checks) were used. More than $8.5 million was generated to the local economy though the redemption of WIC coupons at 54 local WIC groceries.
WIC serves eligible pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5. Additionally, participants have to meet residential, income and nutritional risk guidelines.
Applicants’ gross income (i.e. before taxes are withheld) must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines. That number is $28,694 for a family of two and $43,568 for a family of four.
No change in benefits
Certain applicants also can be determined income-eligible for WIC based on their participation in certain programs. These programs include SNAP, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or at State agency option.
Those receiving food benefits from WIC will not see a change in the amount of monthly SNAP benefits. Recipients will get a shopping list from their WIC office of listing monthly food benefits.
Florida is one of the largest states ready for completion of the EBT system. The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 mandated each state agency to implement an EBT system by Oct. 1, 2020.
For more information, visit www.volusiahealth.com.