USDA: All WIC Benefit Recipients will Have Access to EBT Cards by 2020

USDA: All WIC Benefit Recipients will Have Access to EBT Cards by 2020
Image: Pixabay
February 29, 2016

A rule finalized this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will require states to provide WIC benefits using debit cards rather than the paper vouchers most states currently use.

By 2020, all families that receive Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food benefits will be able to use an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to do their shopping.

The new USDA rule requires that all states make the transition from paper benefits to electronic by October 2020. The rule also provides funding assistance. Only a dozen states and four tribal nations have already completed the switch.

The WIC program provides food benefits, nutrition education, and referrals to health and social services for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, as well as infants and children up to age five. About half of all infants in the U.S. participate in WIC. With the exception of states that have already transitioned to EBT, WIC benefits are still given as paper vouchers, which requires families to purchase all items in one trip to the store and to separate their WIC foods from other grocery items.

EBT cards, however, look and act like credit cards, which makes checkout easier, faster and more confidential than using vouchers. Benefits are loaded onto the card and families are able to use the card as needed and WIC grocery items are electronically separated.

About $220 million has been appropriated by Congress to help state agencies fund the transition from paper to digital.

State agencies will also now be able to collect data on the type, amount, and cost of foods purchased with WIC benefits. Electronic benefits will also decrease the time and cost of processing payments for both agencies and vendors.

For more information about the WIC program, visit the USDA website.