WIC program launches eWIC
SAIPAN – The CNMI's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children on Tuesday launched an electronic benefit transfer system, dubbed eWIC, replacing paper checks with a card.
As of Tuesday, the WIC program has distributed 62 eWIC cards to families and will continue to distribute the same to other program participants on Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
The WIC program is federally funded and benefits about 3,200 women, infants and children each month throughout Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
Flexibility for cardholders
CNMI WIC Administrator Erin Angela Camacho said eWIC provides flexibility.
"When we had the check system, the participants had to purchase everything on the check or else you would lose out on some food benefits because there would be nothing else to indicate that you still had a balance on your check. You could only shop with those checks one time."
With eWIC, Camacho said, participants can go to the store as many times as they need.
"It allows our participants to shop the way they would normally shop," she said. "If they have transportation issues, they can go when they can. They will not lose their benefits."
Camacho said that with the check system, the participants would lose some food benefits if a WIC-approved food item were not available at a store.
"But now they can get what they need to get, and if a WIC-approved food is not available in the store, they can skip it and then get it when it is available."
The electronic system works similar to a debit card, but instead of money, food items are taken out from the system, Camacho said.
"They still have to follow the same food guide," she added. "We provide a prescription of food items based on the participants' needs. It is very specific."
CNMI 'ahead of the game'
According to Taffery Lowry, Arizona WIC program manager, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has mandated that all WIC programs in the nation be on eWIC by 2020.
"The CNMI WIC program is ahead of the game and has already met that mandate before the deadline. The CNMI is in a good position," Lowry said.
The CNMI's WIC program is part of a consortium that includes Arizona, Guam, the Navajo Nation and American Samoa.