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WIC Electronic Benefits Transfer (eWIC)

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What is eWIC?

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Public Law 111-296, was signed into law by President Obama on December 13, 2010. The act expanded several nutrition assistance programs, including WIC. It also mandates that State WIC food issuance migrate from a paper-based benefit delivery system to an electronic benefits transfer system by October 1, 2020. WIC EBT is commonly referred to as “eWIC”.

eWIC Improving the Delivery of Benefits

eWIC has been successfully implemented in several states, with many other states in the process of transitioning. States that have implemented eWIC noted several improvements to the WIC program, including:

  • Elimination of paper checks has improved the shopping experience for WIC participants
  • Electronic approval of WIC items has improved the check-out experience for cashiers
  • Electronic payment processing has improved the reconciliation process for retail vendors
  • eWIC issuance of benefits has streamlined the process in the WIC clinic

eWIC for Iowa

Selecting the right eWIC system for Iowa began with a close analysis of the current system and processes in use by IDPH, Iowa WIC clinics, Iowa retail vendors, and Iowa WIC participants. Currently there are two eWIC systems in use in other states: online eWIC using magnetic stripe cards, and offline eWIC using chip embedded “SmartCards”.

Implementation for eWIC (October, 2013 - Present)

Universal Product Code (UPC) collection for eWIC

Beginning in the fall of 2013 and continuing into early 2014, the Iowa WIC Program will be preparing for the Approved Product List (APL) requirement of eWIC. In an eWIC environment, the program must be able to provide an electronic file to all Iowa WIC approved retailers identifying all products by UPC that are eligible for purchase with WIC benefits. The tasks and equipment associated with the ability to produce and provide an APL include capture of UPC and product data, creation and maintenance of a database of Iowa WIC UPC data. Completing the APL project prior to full eWIC implementation will allow the Iowa WIC program to carefully manage the collection of UPC data to ensure that all WIC approved products are included in the APL when eWIC implementation proceeds.

FIS Selected as Iowa eWIC Services Processor

The Iowa WIC program has received a technology grant fund from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) to implement eWIC. This funding allows the Iowa WIC program to proceed with plans to select the eWIC solution that best meets the needs of Iowans.

On February 24, 2014 a Notice of Intent to Award was issued in the joint procurement of WIC Electronic Benefits Transfer (eWIC) services for the States of Colorado and Iowa. Through a competitive bid process, he States of Colorado and Iowa WIC Programs have selected FIS to provide eWIC services for each state respectively. The selection was made following a thorough evaluation process focused on the qualifications and experience of the company, the overall strength of proposed eWIC solution, services to be provided, and pricing.

The FIS solution is an online eWIC solution utilizing magnetic stripe cards to redeem WIC benefits. In the coming weeks the Iowa WIC Program will begin to work through the contracting process with FIS and sub-contractor CDP. The anticipated date that the Iowa WIC Program and FIS will begin working together is September 1, 2014. Details of the eWIC services to be provided will be shared in the coming weeks and months.

Planning for eWIC (January, 2011 - June, 2013)

The Iowa WIC program began the process of exploring eWIC implementation in early 2011. Analysis and planning activities continued through early 2012. The product of this analysis was documented in a feasibility study approved by the Food & Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (FNS) in May 2012. Findings from the feasibility study have provided insight and guidance in planning for eWIC.

The Iowa WIC program submitted a plan outlining the steps to be taken to pursue eWIC for the State of Iowa and received approval of the plan from FNS in October 2012. Based on the approved plan, the Iowa WIC program intends to select the eWIC solution that best meets the needs of the Iowa WIC program through a competitive bid process. Once a solution is chosen, implementation will begin with a “pilot” test, with state-wide expansion to follow.

June 2013 Iowa eWIC Planning Phase completed

The Iowa WIC program partnered with the Colorado WIC program to produce a joint request for proposal (RFP) in the first step of the process to procure a contractor for eWIC implementation. The two states worked collaboratively from August, 2012 until FNS provided approval of the RFP in June, 2013. The approval of the RFP marks the conclusion of the planning phase of the eWIC project; however, the 2014 USDA federal budget does not include funding for eWIC implementation. What this means for the Iowa WIC program is that work toward an eWIC environment will continue, although the impact of such efforts will be minimally visible until federal funding is available to fully fund implementation activities. Once funding is made available, the Iowa and Colorado WIC programs will proceed to procure an implementation contractor through the approved joint RFP.

Completing the APL project prior to full eWIC implementation will allow the Iowa WIC program to carefully manage the collection of UPC data to ensure that all WIC approved products are included in the APL when eWIC implementation proceeds.