03/11/14 — WIC voucher program picked to go paperless

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WIC voucher program picked to go paperless

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 11, 2014 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Health Department nutritionist Elizabeth Hill, standing, and processing specialist Felicia Brown work together to electronically issue food instruments at the WIC office. The Wayne County WIC program has been chosen to participate in "Crossroads," a pilot program that converts forms to paperless electronic records.

The WIC, or Women, Infants and Children, program at the Wayne County Health Department has been chosen to participate in a pilot program designed to streamline the process for participants to receive their benefits.

The office is implementing "Crossroads," a revamped electronic records system expected to be rolled out statewide later this year.

The effort means the local WIC program is going "paperless," said Stephanie Howard, WIC director.

"Its participants for now are still receiving paper vouchers," she said. "Information is being entered in the computer as participants or grouped as families."

WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Clients must meet eligibility and income requirements. The program provides them with access to healthy foods, breastfeeding support, nutrition tips for parents and children and referrals to health care providers. Patrons receive vouchers, which are taken to WIC vendors and redeemed for approved foods.

One of the program perks is the "WIC Wallet," Ms. Howard said.

"The WIC wallet holds the Food Instruments and Cash Value Voucher that participants take to stores to redeem for approved healthy foods," she said. "Examples of some of the foods available in WIC for women and children (are) milk, cereal, whole-grain bread, brown rice or soft-corn tortillas, fruits and vegetables, cheese, tofu, soy-based beverage, peanut butter, dried or canned beans, peas or lentils and eggs."

Ms. Howard said Wayne County's selection as a pilot county was based upon several factors -- its proximity to Raleigh, its caseload and its staff. The office also has satellite sites nearby, in Mount Olive and at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The program is currently assigned a caseload of 4,373, which is comprised of pregnant and post partum women, new moms breastfeeding infants up to age one, and children ages 1-5, Ms. Howard said.

Records of those in the program, as well as new clients, are being converted to the electronic version.

"We started on February 20," she said. "We are piloting for 12 weeks to make sure the system is working. Things are going well."

The purpose of the introductory phase is to identify and remedy issues before it is introduced across the state later this year, said officials from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The new information system will manage all aspects of state and local WIC program operations, including client services, WIC grocery stores, required federal reporting and monitoring of WIC program data. Once it is fully implemented, the Crossroads system will allow WIC patrons easier scheduling, quicker transaction time, fewer questions at check-in and food packages that better meet family needs.

The Food and Nutrition Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture developed the system as part of a four-state consortium between North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia and West Virginia. After all four states have piloted the program, Crossroads is expected to be used by other states throughout the nation.