05 Apr 2018
- By Lori Lyn C. Lirio – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
THE CNMI Women, Infant, and Child Program on Tuesday launched an electronic benefit transfer system or eWIC, replacing paper checks with a card.
As of Tuesday, the WIC program has distributed 62 eWIC cards to families and will continue to distribute the same to other program participants on Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
WIC is a federally funded supplemental nutrition and education program that serves almost 3,200 women, infants, and children each month throughout Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
Program Administrator Erin Angela Camacho said eWIC provides flexibility. “When we had the check system, the participants had to purchase everything on the check or else you would lose out on some food benefits because there would be nothing else to indicate that you still had a balance on your check. You could only shop with those checks one time.”
With eWIC, Camacho said participants can go to the store as many times as they need to. “It allows our participants to shop the way they would normally shop. If they have transportation issue, they can go when they can. They will not lose their benefits.”
Camacho said with the check system, the participants could lose some food benefits if these were not available at a store.
“But now they can get what they need to get and if a WIC-approved food is not available in the store, they can skip it and then get it when it is available.”
eWIC is like a debit card, but instead of money, food items are being taken out from the system, Camacho said.
“They still have to follow the same food guide,” she added. “We provide a prescription of food items based on the participants’ needs. It is very specific.”
She said the new system will also help the WIC program in terms of monitoring where the participants shop, what food they redeem the most, and what brand they prefer.
“When we were doing the checks, it was very hard for us to collate such data. With the new system, we can help the vendors or the stores by informing them that participants in their area are shopping for particular items and brands. It is useful for us in terms of getting data in able to meet the participants’ need,” Camacho said.
According to Taffery Lowry, Arizona WIC program manager, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has mandated that all WIC programs in the nation should be on eWIC by 2020.
“The CNMI WIC program is ahead of the game and has already met that mandate before the deadline. The CNMI is in a good position,” Lowry said.
“The CNMI’s WIC program is part of a consortium that includes Arizona, Guam, the Navajo Nation and American Samoa. We have been able to pull our resources together and put everything in place,” she added.
Lowry said Arizona rolled out eWIC in Oct. 2017; Guam in the last week of March; while the Navajo Nation and American Samoa will switch to the new system by the end of April.
Camacho said just like in the check system, they will still issue three months benefits. “But they will only see one month at a time. Then at midnight of the first day of the month, the new balance will show up. It will automatically appear. They will have to go back to the WIC clinic to be issued benefits again after three months,” she said.
The WIC program will still provide participants with nutrition education and wellness checkups.
Also available is the EzWIC app which allows a participant to view a food list and see what types of foods are WIC-approved. A participant can also scan the barcode of a food with a cell phone, and the app will tell the participant if it is WIC approved.
“If you attach your e-WIC card, you can see what your latest benefit balance is. The app is very user-friendly,” Camacho said.
The WIC program provides healthy food, nutrition education, breastfeeding support, and connections to community services for income-eligible women who are pregnant and postpartum, infants, and children up to 5 years old.
According to the WIC program, in fiscal year 2017, 14 local WIC-approved grocery stores took in $3.2 million from WIC shoppers.
For more information about the WIC program, call 664-4084/4083
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/103457-wic-program-launches-ewic