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Ensuring Program Integrity in the WIC Program

Posted by Sarah Widor, WIC Program Integrity Branch Chief, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017
Two women looking at the mother's baby breastfeeding
FNS has taken a range of steps to ensure the highest level of integrity in WIC.

For more than 40 years, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has provided supplemental foods and nutrition services vital to the health and nutrition of vulnerable moms, newborns and young children. And throughout those four decades, we’ve had a long-standing history of working with WIC state agencies to ensure program resources and taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.

While a 2013 study found a relatively low rate of improper vendor payments, (representing less than 1.5 percent of WIC food expenses), FNS has and will continue to intervene when problems arise and to require state agencies to improve the integrity of their programs.

FNS is vigilant about the integrity of all of its food assistance programs, including WIC. That’s why in 2014, FNS established the Program Integrity and Monitoring Branch to oversee WIC integrity initiatives. This new branch plays a key role in WIC monitoring and oversight and it is paying close attention to vendor management practices to ensure the program pays only fair prices to retailers for WIC foods. It provides technical assistance to address areas of concern and to disseminate information about noteworthy initiatives. The branch also supports electronic benefit transfer (EBT) implementation efforts, which vastly improves integrity by simplifying the benefit transaction for participants and cashiers and improving states’ ability to track prices stores are charging and redemption patterns. 

Here’s a list of some of our steps we’re taking to ensure integrity:

Providing Direct Technical Assistance

In September 2014, FNS completed reviews on vendor management practices in each state with a retail food delivery system, including the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.  FNS is working with state agencies to correct all problems identified through these reviews.

In December 2014, FNS launched a process to assess the strength of vendor management practices nationwide.  We’re now developing technical assistance materials on paying competitive prices for supplemental foods to help state agencies improve their vendor management practices. The first set of topic-specific tools are expected by the end of June (2015) and rolled out later this year. FNS is also developing a comprehensive Vendor Management Handbook to improve the quality and consistency of vendor oversight activities.

FNS staff have recently provided web-based program integrity trainings in two priority areas—income eligibility and certification, as well as vendor management.  To date, two vendor management webinars have been presented and several more are in the planning stages. 

Addressing WIC Foods Sold Online

In 2012, WIC began working with major social media sites (Amazon, Craigslist, eBay and Facebook) to address the potential online sale of WIC foods.  Amazon strengthened its policies on prohibiting certain types of sales not only for WIC, but also for SNAP, as a direct result of our request.  Craigslist also has policies prohibiting the sale of WIC and SNAP cards or foods and eBay has a warning for sellers that it is a violation of federal law to sell food and infant formula obtained through the WIC Program.  We also wrote to every state agency encouraging them to place the following statement on all WIC checks, EBT cards or their accompanying folders or sleeves:  “Buying or selling WIC benefits is a crime.  To report suspected abuse, call 800-424-9121 or visit www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm.”  FNS is continuing its efforts to guard against the potential sale of WIC foods.   

Conducting Research

We are conducting a range of studies to help inform future integrity efforts. One study examines EBT data to identify an approach to develop high-risk vendor indicators in both the current and future (all-EBT) WIC environments. Another looks at effective methods for establishing vendor groups based on common characteristics that affect food prices, competitive price criteria and allowable reimbursement levels.

Findings from both studies are expected in 2016 and will be used to inform future actions. FNS is committed to working with our partners in the 90 WIC state agencies to use evidence to strengthen the integrity of the program.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Comments

Linda Oswald
Aug 05, 2015

I believe that the WIC is a very important program that has helped many mothers and children and am glad to know of the efforts to deal with any fraud.
Thank you