Arizona WIC families and retailers will see improvements in convenience, accuracy and speed when the program integrates electronic benefits transfer into its existing Health and Nutrition Delivery System (HANDS).
Launching eWIC and integrating EBT into HANDS is one of the largest initiatives for WIC, as it impacts every stakeholder.
The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and CMA, the IT firm that built HANDS, are rolling out the new eWIC card program starting with a pilot in Casa Grande on June 19.
“We are rolling out a phased approach in a six to nine-week timeframe,” said Celia Nabor, Arizona State WIC Director at ADHS.
By the end of December, the eWIC program will be available statewide, supported by 120 clinics and approximately 650 WIC-approved vendors. The innovative eWic program will serve 145,000 Arizona WIC participants, making it easier for women and children to have access to healthy and nutritious foods.
According to the ADHS, the new and improved program will begin in Pinal County, then move to Maricopa and Pima counties before being available in the rural areas of the state. The state agency is working to coordinate each phase of the launch to activate the local WIC offices and local vendors simultaneously.
While Arizona’s launch of the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) delivery method into WIC is on schedule with the state’s plans, the program is being implemented two and a half years ahead of the federal mandate.
WIC is a federally-funded program, supported by the United States Department of Agriculture. Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, all WIC agencies and programs are required to utilize an EBT system by October 1, 2020.
“The EBT launch provides many benefits to Arizona's WIC participants, but it also benefits retailers significantly. Through more streamlined, business-friendly process improvements, retailers can now leverage modern, automated card systems. This saves time and reduces expenses, all while supporting this critical nutrition program,” said Fenris Daniel, Human Services Practice Director of CMA.
According to Daniel, a host of business-friendly advantages will come with the new program, including the elimination of issues related to rejected checks, transactions that are less error prone, and a more efficient checkout process. It will be easier and faster to receive payments, and vendors are paid within two business days. Vendors will also experience back-office labor savings, as it will no longer be necessary to count, deposit, or process checks.
Also from the retailers’ perspective, the new EBT method will provide businesses cost-saving opportunities by automating purchases, re-imbursements and inventory management. Grocers will be able to receive payment for WIC purchases by the next day, whereas under the current voucher process, retailers could wait more than 60 days to receive re-imbursement.
“Probably around 15 types of errors can occur, which results in decreased payments, no payment or a longer turnaround to get paid,” said Nabor of the re-imbursement issues vendors currently face with the voucher system.
For WIC families, payment for their approved groceries will no longer involve vouchers or checks. The eWIC card creates an improved shopping process overall, giving users more control of their grocery list and quantities per trip. Lost or stolen eWIC cards can now be replaced and payment is handled just like a debit card.
Additionally, the eWIC card is preloaded with the approved grocery list, reducing confusion or errors at the register between the store and shopper on what is WIC approved. The eWIC cards will have real-time access to the HANDS database, which will minimize the need for monitoring WIC-approved items and processes at the registers.
The eWIC cards also update data immediately into the HANDS database, providing ADHS with real-time data and analysis from the stores. The EBT method provides state administrators with a greater ability to monitor, audit and analyze expenditures, all while reducing waste and potential fraud and issues within the WIC program.
Following Arizona’s eWIC launch, ADHS and CMA will be implementing the electronic delivery update to the Navajo Nation, Guam, Mariana Islands and the American Samoa in 2018.
With more than 25 years of WIC experience throughout the country, CMA has been working with ADHS since 1998, previously rolling out the award-winning Arizona in Motion system in 2001 before replacing it with HANDS in 2014.