by Ron Fong, CGA president/CEO
For The Shelby Report
California continues to suffer under an indefinite moratorium on new WIC vendor authorizations. The issue remains one of the most critical facing California’s retail grocers. The California Grocers Association (CGA) has taken a multi-pronged approach in an attempt to help the California WIC Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reach agreement on a solution that works for our industry.
After more than two years with little action, we have recently seen positive movement in terms of both long- and short-term solutions, largely in response to continued pressure from CGA and many of our member companies.
On June 10, the California WIC Department released a set of exception criteria to allow some vendors to apply for authorization of additional store locations notwithstanding the ongoing moratorium. To qualify for an exception, a vendor must meet all federal and state vendor criteria, in addition to one of the following:
• The vendor location will operate as the only WIC-authorized vendor within a two-mile radius in urban areas or a five-mile radius in rural areas; or
• The vendor location is one that has been purchased from an authorized WIC vendor and was operating as a vendor location within the prior six months; or
• The vendor location was closed for renovation or other reasons and is re-opening within six months under the same ownership.
Exceptions meeting the guidelines are granted at the discretion of the California WIC Department. The approval process takes roughly 10 days once a request for exception has been submitted.
On June 14, the California WIC Department released its first regulatory alert outlining proposed regulations governing vendor authorization criteria. CGA commented in the proposal and raised several concerns regarding drafting. The WIC Department responded to many of our recommendations, and final regulations outlining vendor authorization criteria took effect on Oct. 17. It is the hope of the California WIC Department and the USDA that new requirements will help ensure that outlier vendors will be forced to either change business practices or relinquish vendor authorization.
CGA continues to work with the WIC Department and USDA to identify expanded exception criteria that may be applied to allow additional vendors to expand operations in California and continue to serve WIC customers at new locations.
Several high-profile stores have opened in California but do not meet the current exception criteria so are unable to serve WIC customers. That could be addressed through expanding the criteria to allow additional vendors into the program while maintaining adequate oversight.