Gila River families now able to use convenient eWIC card
September 1, 2017
Thomas R. Throssell
Gila River Indian News
In an unprecedented technological step forward for Gila River Indian Community families participating in the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (ITCAWIC), an electronic benefit transfer card known as eWIC was introduced and implemented on Aug. 23, allowing participants to use the benefits card quickly and conveniently, much like a debit card.
According to Mary Dixon, Community Nutrition Program Manager, GRIC is the first tribe to implement the card in the ITCA program and is a pilot site for the new system.
Dixon said the system went live last Wednesday, with around 60 families currently utilizing the eWIC cards in and around the Community. Over the next several months, said Dixon, they are looking to have every Community WIC participant, around 1,400 people, using the new cards.
“We are the pilot program, and just trying to (get the cards) out, (and) make sure there aren’t any bugs. The first day it went smoother than we thought, (but) there were a few issues of the system running slow,” she said.
While the system may have a few hiccups early on, eventually the new arrangement will allow WIC participants to purchase goods and receive benefits in a quick and convenient way, while at the same time giving families detailed information on what foods are available for purchase and what their balance is in real time.
Participants in the program will be able to access this information through an application on their smartphone called WICShopper, which is available on Apple and Android devices.
“When they go to the store, they can actually bring (their phone) and scan the barcode, and when you do that it will tell you what is WIC eligible and what is not,” said Dixon. “You can also log in (with) your card number and it will show you what is available on the card.”
In the past, WIC participants had to use paper checks to buy groceries or receive benefits, said Dixon. This led to several problematic issues because when WIC participants needed items like formula or staple groceries, they had to use the check’s full amount, meaning families had to buy extra food they did not need.
“You used to have to cash a whole check, so if you didn’t want two gallons of milk at that time, you lost (those benefits),” said Dixon. “(So), you get two gallons of milk, peanut butter, cheese, bread, and eggs, you have to get it all. There is no coming back and once you sign (the check), it is gone, whereas on eWIC, you get what you want. You can go to the store, and only get milk and cheese, swipe your card, and then you are on your way,” she said.
Another issue caused by using paper checks that won’t exist anymore thanks to the new eWIC system, is WIC participants will not lose their benefits if they lose their card.
Previously, if you lost a check, you lost your benefits, meaning no food, formula, or basic staples until the next check arrived. Now, with the new eWIC card, even if you lose it, the data for all your benefits are still in the system. All you have to do is pick up a new one, Dixon said.
“We have had so many people who have lost their checks,” said Dixon. “If you lose the card, as long as nobody has your pin number, you just need to come in and we will give you another card. The benefits aren’t on the card, they are in the system,” she said.
In addition to the new cards and smartphone application, there is a nutrition education component to the system. Previously, program participants had to visit the local WIC office for nutrition education, which enabled them to receive benefits. Now, with the new eWIC system, participants can utilize a smartphone application called WICSmart that contains information on a number of health related topics.
Participants can use the application to learn about those topics, take a pre-test and post-test, then can take a screenshot of the test and send it to Gila River WIC. This acts as nutrition education training and allows program participants to receive their WIC benefits without having to visit WIC’s offices.
“As long as they aren’t at high risk and don’t need re-certification, we can call them on the phone, they send us the screen shot, and (we) just load the benefits to their card,” Dixon said.
For more information about the new eWIC system contact GRIC’s WIC Program at (520) 562-9698.