Notice to Stakeholders: USDA Awards Tufts $8.5M to Foster Telehealth Tech for WIC Moms

Technological advances are streamlining industries across the globe. To make use of these innovations for program participants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced the award of an $8.5 million cooperative agreement with Tufts University to test and evaluate the use of telehealth innovations in delivery of USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The project’s goal is to develop cutting-edge technology to improve delivery of nutrition education to pregnant women and caregivers of young children participating in USDA’s WIC Program.   

Nutrition education, including breastfeeding support, is one of WIC’s core benefits. However, participating in the program can be challenging for some families, especially those in rural areas. Telehealth innovations are one way WIC clinics might be able to provide education to moms that have a hard time getting to WIC clinics.  

As the WIC Telehealth Innovations Project unfolds, Tufts will release a request for proposals from WIC agencies – which include states, U.S. territories and Indian Tribal Organizations.  The university will competitively select and award sub-grants to the state agencies with the most promising proposals.  These projects will explore ways to harness telehealth advances to augment nutrition education and breastfeeding support normally offered onsite at WIC clinics. Details about the proposal process for states will be available in the coming months.  

USDA expects the sub-grants to fund a variety of telehealth interventions, including those that would address common barriers found in rural settings, where about one in four WIC sites are located.   

As part of the new cooperative agreement with Tufts, the university will evaluate each sub-grantee’s telehealth innovation project. The agreement begins in September 2019 and concludes in 2024.   

Telehealth innovations may produce cost savings compared to in-person services, potentially allowing more caregivers to be served more frequently with the same resources. The Tufts evaluation will examine these impacts and others, providing evidence to inform future decisions about how WIC may use telehealth projects in the future.