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WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: e-WIC Cards

People who depend on WIC are happy to find out a new e-WIC card will replace the old, inefficient paper voucher system.

Posted: Sep 10, 2018 5:51 PM
Updated: Sep 11, 2018 8:22 AM

A new WAAY 31 I-Team investigation shows you how Alabama is upgrading the way it pays out benefits from one particular food assistance program.

Across the state, more than a hundred-thousand people participate in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

To be clear, WIC is different from SNAP, formerly known as the food program.

Instead, we’re talking about WIC which pays for a relatively short list of specific foods based on their nutritional value.

Alabama is a few weeks away from a new e-WIC card. It’s expected to streamline what has been an inefficient process.

With baby twins and a toddler in tow, Shaza Robinson has her hands full. We caught up with Shaza loading the baby stroller.

Kingston's up front.

Ka'liyah’s riding in back. And big brother Kegan is helping push.

The single mom depends on the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known simply as WIC.

"We use it for the kids,” she told WAAY 31. “They give you Similac. And also when they get a little older, they provide the cereal and the first and second stage baby foods. And also for my 2-year-old, they provide like 2 percent milk for them and yogurt."

Robinson is thankful for WIC. At grocery store checkouts, though, using WIC means making other shoppers wait.

"It's just kind of embarrassing to go to the store and have to use the vouchers because you know everybody's behind you and you're holding up the line," Robinson told us. "It would be so much easier if we could just swipe and go on about our day."

A federal mandate is about to give Robinson what she wants.

"We're changing to e-WIC which is an electronic benefit transfer system," Jessie Simmons told WAAY 31. She’s the Northern District nutrition director for Alabama's Department of Public Health.

She points out the WIC point-of-purchase system is old school: eligible items each spelled out on individual paper checks or vouchers.

"Instead of paper vouchers, we will have e-WIC cards which are like debit cards that will have a PIN number," Simmons explained.

Personal Identification Numbers entered at the cash register will cut down on fraud. Plus, the state says e-WIC cards are completely secure for users with no link to personal banking information. The e-WIC cards won’t even have names on them -- just 16 digit WIC account numbers.

"They won't have to separate their WIC foods from their non-WIC foods,” Simmons said. “It'll be a lot faster -- just the swipe of a card versus having to sign each voucher for each transaction."

The old vouchers have been vexing. In our state, about 117-thousand people use WIC. Besides kids, WIC is intended to help pregnant, new and nursing moms.

WIC promotes specific nutritious foods. Just a few: infant formula, milk, cheese, cereal, fruits, veggies, juice, yogurt and eggs.

The new e-WIC cards will sort it all out electronically.

“It will be great for us,” Lynn Gann with Star Market told WAAY 31.

Grocery stores are eager for the new system.

“We’re hoping it will mean our customer service will be a lot better and go a lot smoother and faster with us not having to check the WIC checks out and every single item on the check,” Gann explained.

She’s also happy checkout clerks can stop being WIC cops. Soon, a data base will look for product bar codes and make all the judgement calls.

“It will be just scan it and go,” Gann said. “We will be working with WIC to make sure we have everything in the database for them.

e-WIC families with more than one child will see all benefits loaded onto a single card instead of doled out to individuals item by item.

"And they could choose to get just one gallon of milk or just one container of juice or five dollars of fruits,” Simmons said, “instead of having to use exactly what's on the voucher. It'll be more user-friendly. "

Shaza Robinson can't wait to get her family's new e-WIC card, an improvement on a program she already appreciates.

"It's a great program and it really helps me a lot being a single parent and the support from them to be able to make sure that we have what they need."

Beginning in the fall, a three-month pilot program begins in Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery counties.

The e-WIC card will be available statewide next year.

The electronic cards will also help the state track the foods families buy to fine-tune nutritional offerings.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson22861374
Mobile14468314
Tuscaloosa10148139
Montgomery9875196
Madison915094
Shelby720462
Lee649665
Baldwin647569
Marshall433049
Calhoun418960
Etowah418749
Morgan403635
Houston369232
DeKalb330229
Elmore314852
St. Clair287142
Limestone276530
Walker272293
Talladega261035
Cullman235724
Lauderdale214841
Jackson210015
Autauga202330
Franklin202131
Colbert196731
Russell19233
Blount189325
Dallas186227
Chilton184132
Escambia171929
Coffee171710
Covington169929
Dale165451
Chambers133643
Pike132313
Tallapoosa130587
Clarke130017
Marion106229
Butler100140
Barbour9979
Marengo99222
Winston91313
Geneva8527
Pickens82417
Lawrence82131
Randolph81216
Bibb81114
Hale74930
Clay72912
Cherokee72614
Lowndes70328
Monroe64010
Henry6396
Bullock63717
Washington63412
Crenshaw60230
Perry5836
Wilcox56212
Fayette56113
Conecuh55713
Cleburne5438
Macon52920
Sumter47021
Lamar4665
Choctaw38812
Greene34216
Coosa2023
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 237907

Reported Deaths: 3011
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby34892558
Davidson30302330
Knox1217488
Hamilton11368105
Rutherford11274110
Williamson680255
Sumner5788108
Wilson451455
Putnam425754
Montgomery398851
Out of TN382836
Unassigned38224
Madison369679
Bradley347923
Sullivan339546
Sevier324121
Washington324146
Blount319132
Maury313937
Robertson253741
Hamblen237943
Tipton226022
Dyer209627
Gibson208238
Hardeman182132
Coffee179920
Trousdale17517
Obion167820
Greene161851
Bedford161720
Anderson161114
Fayette160522
Dickson160419
Wayne15697
Loudon156610
McMinn156433
Cumberland156124
Lawrence152618
Jefferson149220
Weakley146725
Carter146532
Monroe139528
Warren138710
Henderson137925
Lauderdale136717
Hardin135219
Macon128625
Franklin124416
Roane12237
Haywood121027
Overton116512
Hawkins114224
White113314
Johnson11177
Carroll110525
McNairy109926
Marshall10859
Rhea106316
Cheatham100011
Bledsoe9994
Lake9753
Cocke96612
Smith96212
Giles92134
Campbell9118
Fentress8778
Lincoln8363
Crockett80320
Henry75610
Hickman75113
Marion7249
Chester71514
DeKalb69017
Decatur64811
Grainger5514
Grundy53511
Union5173
Claiborne5086
Polk48313
Jackson4345
Humphreys4244
Morgan4227
Houston39915
Benton3979
Cannon3962
Unicoi3842
Clay38314
Lewis3602
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Perry2611
Moore2542
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