|DATE:||October 24, 2022|
|SUBJECT:||The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
(WIC): Ensuring Participant Access to Supplemental Foods
Special Nutrition Programs
All FNS Regional Offices
|WIC State Agency Directors
All WIC State Agencies
Dear WIC State Agency Directors:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service is committed to promoting nutrition security through the WIC program and recognizes that WIC-authorized vendors are integral to the success of program operations. The WIC program has modernized operations in recent years to better serve our participants, implementing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) to make shopping easier and adapting operations to support the health and safety of participants during the COVID-2019 pandemic. More recently, WIC state agencies have responded to the Abbott recall and ongoing shortages impacting the nationwide supply and availability of formula at WIC-authorized vendors. Coinciding with these events is an approximately 15 percent decline in the number of WIC-authorized vendors nationwide since 2015.
Today, I am writing to encourage WIC state agencies to assess their vendor populations and ensure that the appropriate number and distribution of vendors are authorized to support participants’ access to supplemental foods, as required by 7 CFR 246.12(g)(1). As part of this assessment, through a survey or other means, FNS recommends that state agencies consider the shopping patterns of current participants and eligible non-participants, including where these groups shop with both WIC and non-WIC tender and which stores are most convenient to home and work. This information is vital to identifying gaps in participant access to authorized vendors and informing state agency decisions about their vendor authorization processes and participant access criteria.
FNS encourages WIC state agencies to work collaboratively with the vendor community to identify how state agency vendor selection and/or limiting criteria, application periods or policies, WIC authorized food lists, technology requirements, and participant access criteria may impact vendor participation in the WIC program. WIC state agencies should use this information to inform adjustments to policy and operations with the goal of authorizing an appropriate number and distribution of vendors in order to ensure adequate participant access to supplemental foods. More information on FNS vendor management is available here: Vendor Management and Food Delivery Handbook
With the goal of advancing access and equity, FNS also remains committed to implementing online shopping in the WIC program and will continue supporting state agency efforts in this regard. In support of innovative online shopping projects, FNS is considering state agency waiver requests under authority granted by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (PL 117-2, ARPA). WIC state agencies are encouraged to work toward online shopping and share ideas and successes with their FNS regional offices and vendor communities. FNS is also working to expand online shopping using ARPA funding intended for outreach, innovation, and modernization. In FY 2022, FNS awarded 12 WIC Shopping Experience Improvement Grants to state agencies to work toward online shopping. FNS intends to announce additional funding opportunities in FYs 2023 and 2024. FNS also looks forward to publishing a proposed rule to address key regulatory barriers to online shopping in the WIC program and modernize vendor regulations to reflect current technologies. FNS welcomes your input on the proposed rule following publication.
I invite you to learn more about the topics raised in this letter by joining FNS for a 1-hour webinar on promising vendor management practices scheduled for November 10th at 3 pm Eastern. Additional details and an invitation will be shared in the coming weeks. If you need technical assistance as you work to assess your vendor populations and participant access, please reach out to your respective regional offices.
Thank you for your service to WIC participants and your ongoing dedication to the WIC program.
Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs