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USDA Task Force Offers Tips On Streamlining WIC Redemption

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The WIC Task Force on Supplemental Foods Delivery has submitted a report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifying recommendations to streamline the redemption of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits in a manner that promotes convenience, safety and equitable access for program participants.

Established by USDA as required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the task force was charged with reviewing current WIC regulations and making recommendations on the adoption of online and telephone ordering, curbside pickup and payment, online and telephone purchasing, home delivery, self-checkout and other measures that limit or forgo the need for consumer presence in a physical store. 

The task force is comprised of retailers and manufacturers of WIC supplemental foods, representatives of WIC state and local agencies, WIC participants and technology companies.

Online purchasing is currently prohibited under the WIC program rules, and the regulations do not allow for transactions via a virtual platform. In contemplating the steps that would reduce regulatory barriers and unleash the potential of new delivery systems, the task force established four guiding principles as part of the development of its recommendations:

  • Pursue the most intelligent ordering and payment approach to the extent possible;
  • Following existing commercial models, where possible;
  • Treat WIC participants equally to other retail consumers; and
  • Focus on best practices.

In its report, the task force urged swift and focused USDA action to partner with WIC providers, retailers, suppliers, technology experts, processors and all other interested stakeholders to develop and implement modern, forward-looking solutions that streamline the WIC transaction. Specifically, the report provides recommendations on how best to establish an online WIC redemption process, including ordering, fulfillment, purchase completion and pickup or delivery. 

“WIC participants shop in retail grocery stores like any other family, but outdated program rules require WIC families to shop as if it’s still the 20th century. After months of review by diverse stakeholders, the task force report is clear: WIC families deserve modern ordering and transaction options equivalent to the general shopping public,” said Melinda Newport, chair of the USDA Task Force on Supplemental Foods Delivery. 

“USDA has already undertaken an extraordinary amount of effort to integrate food assistance programs into retailer platforms, including through online SNAP and WIC pilot projects. The task force report charts a path forward to update WIC regulations in a manner that would empower state, retailer and payment processor innovation to deliver tangible solutions for WIC families in the next few years.

“On behalf of the task force, we appreciate the collaboration of this broad assembly of interested parties in studying these complex program improvements and providing guidance to inform USDA’s next steps. We eagerly await the forthcoming rulemaking period to advance modern vendor regulations that will build a 21st-century framework for the WIC shopping experience,” she said.

Apart from the report, in September 2021, an independent poll by McLaughlin & Associates/ALG Research conducted on behalf of the National WIC Association and Alliance to End Hunger found broad support for modernizing WIC services, including online shopping options for WIC families. The poll registered 74 percent support among likely voters, including 60 percent support of likely Republican voters, 68 percent support of likely independent voters, and 89 percent support of likely Democratic voters.

The complete task force report can be accessed here.

“The food industry is committed to providing the safest, freshest and most affordable food products to meet the needs of all consumers and their families. We are particularly interested in ensuring that WIC customers are able to purchase groceries online when they prefer that option, just as SNAP customers are now able to do,” said Jennifer Hatcher, chief public policy officer and SVP of government and public affairs at FMI. 

“FMI has appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Online WIC Task Force with such a knowledgeable and committed group of people and urges USDA and Congress to prioritize making improvements to the WIC program that modernize and streamline the transaction process to ensure WIC beneficiaries have additional options to secure healthy, affordable foods for their families,” Hatcher said.

Additional information about each task force member and their organizations can be found at fns.usda.gov/wic/task-force-supplemental-foods-delivery.  

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