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Friday, 07 August 2015 12:21

WIC nutrition assistance for children just became easier

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Julianna, a young mother from Janesville, receives nutrition counseling during a visit to the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, office in Janesville. The program is replacing paper vouchers with electronic cards to make it easier for mothers to provide healthy food choices for their young children. Julianna, a young mother from Janesville, receives nutrition counseling during a visit to the Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, office in Janesville. The program is replacing paper vouchers with electronic cards to make it easier for mothers to provide healthy food choices for their young children. Terry Mayer/staff

ROCK COUNTY -- Julianna, the Janesville mother of a bright-eyed infant, says the new eWIC card will make purchasing food for her young family a lot more convenient.

"It will be easier than just keep signing papers every time," Julianna said about the paper vouchers the program had used since the 1970s. "I don’t have to buy everything all at once."

The eWIC cards are a new electronic payment system rolling out for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program for low-income mothers and their children.

"We’re really excited about the eWIC program," said Susan Stein, Rock County WIC director. "It’s bringing the WIC program more up-to-date with what’s going on with technology. The eWIC card works like a debit card, which is exciting for us."

The WIC program provides food for women from the time they become pregnant through when their babies are 6 months old.

After that, children can remain on the program through the age of 5.

"We’re fighting hard to see if we can extend that to 6 years, because the assumption is once you get into the school system then you have school meals," Stein said. "The reality is not every child who turns 5 is going to be in school."

Some of the items that can be purchased through the WIC program include milk, peanut butter, fruit juice, cereal, eggs, fruits and vegetables, beans, baby food, whole grain breads, potatoes and infant formula. Julianna said being involved with the WIC program allows her to save money to purchase other items.

"It helps until we get money to get stuff we need," Julianna said. "It helps with baby formula because formula is really expensive."

Stein said the types of items that clients can purchase with their eWIC card is based on their nutritional needs.

"We tailor the diet individually, so you start with the basics and we tailor it to a need," Stein said.

The program provides counseling on proper nutrition for a wide range of situations, from breastfeeding to diabetes control to weight management.

"We really try to pick what the clients are most concerned about," Stein said.

Stein said the program also is more convenient when clients check out at the grocery store, because they no longer have to separate items that they purchase with their WIC card from other items. Eligible items are sorted electronically.

With the previous voucher system, clients would have to purchase all of their WIC items at one time, which made it difficult to purchase perishable items such as milk.

The program also will reduce fraud if a client gives their card to someone else.

"With the eWIC  card, you have to have a pin number. If somebody gives their pin number away, they can’t come in and say somebody stole my checks," Stein said. "We’ll give you a new pin number and a new card and off you go. We can look and see what’s left on your card. If you give someone your pin number and they take it, that’s going to be your issue, not ours."

During the past six months, Nutrition and Health Associates, which oversees the Rock County WIC program, has been informing clients about the eWIC card through text messages, mailings, bus signs and its Facebook page.

"(The information) is on all the buses in the city of Janesville and the city of Beloit," Stein said. "We sent out 100 notices to community partners saying tell your clients it’s coming. It’s going to be a big deal. It’s easier, and we’re really hoping that the ease of shopping is going to make them more inclined to sign up and stay on the program."

In order to be eligible for WIC, residents have to meet certain income guidelines. For example, a family of four has to have a weekly income of no more than $863 or a family of two must have a weekly income that cannot exceed $567.

The WIC program serves about 3,330 families in Rock County. Stein said the number of clients has decreased during the past few years because of the requirements to stay on the program.

"We’re not easy," Stein said. "You have to come in and see a dietitian. You have to have education. We’re trying to teach you habits that you will carry into the future for your kids. You have to come by appointment, so you’re making a commitment. So people who join WIC and stay on WIC are committed to the program."

Besides WIC, Nutrition and Health Associates also offers prenatal care coordination, health checks and referrals to other services.

For more information, call 608-754-3722 or 608-362-1566.

"We’re a one-stop shop. We try to do a centered pregnancy program where you get more than one service when you walk in the door," Stein said. "The kids are eligible for programs that will detect developmental growth. We’re a gateway program. We refer people to multiple resources. We help (clients) make appointments because they have multiple needs."

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