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New eWIC cards modernize food benefit system

Ryan Zunner/WBFO News

Families utilizing WIC benefits in New York State will say goodbye to paper vouchers. The New York State Department of Health has announced the launch of eWIC, part of a nationwide initiative to streamline the shopping experience for WIC families.Speaking at Wegmans on Amherst Street Wednesday, Director for the Office of Public Health Loretta Santilli says the new system brings New York’s WIC program into the 21st century and up to date with several other states.

“Prior to the release of eWIC, WIC families received a paper voucher, a check that had the prescription on it. And that check required them to get everything that they needed all at once. Sometimes they didn’t need everything right then,” says Santilli. “So with the new eWIC card, those benefits are loaded onto the card and they can use them as they need them, one at a time.” 

The idea of families purchasing only what they need at the time is pivotal for many WIC users. In the past, families had to purchase all the items listed on their paper voucher or else they couldn’t buy anything at all. Santilli says that caused holdups at shopping lines and sometimes embarrassment for WIC families.

“What this is really about is convenience for both the family and the stores. And it’s about dignity—removing that stigma and embarrassment and allowing our families to get those healthy benefits they need to grow,” she said.

Not only are WIC families now able to use a scannable card and buy what they need when they need it, but the Department of Health also announced a new mobile app that will go hand-in-hand with eWIC.

“As part of the new eWIC rollout, we are also launching WIC-to-go, which is a mobile app that you can use on a smartphone,” says Santilli. “So now moms can now look at their benefits on their smartphone, they can find their local WIC clinic, they can find their local store, and they can look at when their next appointments are scheduled and what benefits are still on their card so they can adjust their shopping to meet their needs.”

The eWIC program is now available in 48 out of New York’s 62 counties, all in the Upstate region. The Department of Health expects eWIC to be available to all users by the spring of 2019.

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.