WASHINGTON, DC — April 3, 2003 — A retail food industry leader today proposed reforms to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program that would enable users to stretch their WIC dollars, broaden their access to products and stores, and make it easier for retailers to serve them — all at no additional cost to taxpayers.

“The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) fully supports the important mission of the WIC program,” testified FMI Vice President of Legislative and Political Affairs Anne Curry before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

She added, however, “Today the administrative process — from the initial authorization of a retail store to customer checkout and reimbursement — is incredibly complex and needs to be more user-friendly and efficient.”

Curry offered 10 proposals to improve the WIC program for all parties involved, including:

  • Allow WIC participants to buy less costly but nutritionally equal private label versions of products, saving them money to purchase additional food.
  • When store ownership changes, issue interim WIC licenses so customers can continue to shop at their regular stores. Under current rules, licenses are immediately lifted in such events, and it takes up to 12 weeks for them to be reissued.
  • Make WIC prescriptions more flexible and in line with packaging changes. For example, a prescription may call for 46-ounce cans of juice when the standard packaging has changed to 64-ounce plastic bottles.
  • Improve efficiency by facilitating the transition to delivering WIC benefits electronically, which is used widely in the Food Stamp program. “The transition should be cost-neutral to authorized retailers,” Curry said, or allow companies to “upgrade equipment during the natural lifecycle at a minimal cost, provided that requirements are standardized and software is available that requires only minimal modifications by retailers.”
  • Notify store managers of program errors after WIC undercover compliance visits. Stores can lose their WIC and Food Stamp licenses after three visits have documented errors — when the problems could have been easily resolved after the first visit.
  • Authorize the creation of WIC Retail Advisory Panels in every state. These have been very helpful in resolving operational issues. Currently, half the states have such panels.

“It is important to note,” Curry said, “that our recommendations will not cost money...and should achieve savings and improved efficiency and customer service.

These recommendations are based on a report issued by the FMI WIC Task Force, composed of 22 food retail industry executives that help oversee the program at the state and federal levels. The task force is chaired by Liz Chace-Marino, a former state WIC program administrator and currently director of government and corporate affairs at The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company based in Boston, MA.