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WIC Program now offers electronic card purchasing

October 31, 2018

The Johnson County Health Department recently announced the migration of the WIC program from paper checks to an electronic debit-style card. Photo by Marlana Ward.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The Johnson County Health Department recently announced changes to the state’s Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) that is expected to make purchases easier and more convenient for families and retailers. The program, which used paper vouchers in the past, has been updated to use an electronic card similar to a debit card at the point of purchase.

“ The TNWIC/EBT cards work like any other debit card except for having food in the account instead of money,” explained Caroline Hurt, Johnson County Health Department Director. “Participants have a PIN for security purposes. The benefits are not on the card like a store gift card but in the ‘electronic cloud system.”

While the purchase method has been changed, the foods purchased will still be monitored and must adhere to state guidelines.

“ Food packages for WIC continue to be the same for TNWIC,” said Hurt. “Participants are only able to purchase items that are on the WIC Approved Food List. Grocery stores are not able to override items that are not WIC approved. WIC Central Office in Nashville controls the TNWIC scanner.”

One significant advantage to the new system is how participants can now purchase items, as they need them rather than having to buy all the listed foods at once.

“The greatest benefits to the clients is that they are able to purchase one WIC approved food item at a time at the grocery stores,” Hurt shared. “Previously with vouchers, all items had to be purchased during that transaction.”

Local WIC retailers will also see advantages to the program’s advances as Hurt explained. “Benefits to the retailers is that electronic funds are transferred to their account the following day. With the voucher system, they had to be deposited into the bank.”

The program’s changes have been well received by all involved with the process. “We have gotten positive responses from both retailers and WIC participants,” Hurt expressed. “They both relay that the transactions are less complicated and faster because each family has one card per household versus several paper vouchers per month for each family member.”

The WIC program is strictly monitored, and items available for purchase must meet specific dietary guidelines as set forth by the USDA.
“WIC authorized foods include infant cereal, baby foods, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits and vegetables, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, soy-based beverages, tofu, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, canned fish, whole wheat bread and other whole-grain options.”

According to the USDA, the WIC program is intended to: “Safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to
age five who are at nutrition risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.”

The WIC program in Tennessee benefits 130,000 participants each month and continues to help address nutrition and obesity issues in low-income families across each of the state’s 95 counties. More information about the WIC program may be obtained by visiting the Johnson County Health Department or by calling the department at 727-9731.