|DATE:||Feb. 1, 2023|
|SUBJECT:||Additional WIC Flexibilities to Support Outreach, Innovation, and Modernization Efforts through ARPA Nationwide Waivers – Supporting Remote WIC Operations|
|TO:||All FNS Regional Offices||All WIC State Agencies|
This letter provides Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) state agencies the opportunity to opt into waivers to modernize WIC through building or enhancing remote services. The provision of remote services over the past several years has proven to be an effective and efficient way to provide WIC services to eligible families. Initial research suggests that remote services reduced the administrative burdens faced by eligible individuals to accessing and maintaining benefits and that participants were satisfied with remote services1, 2. These waivers will support state agency efforts—including American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (PL 117-2; ARPA) funded outreach, innovation, and modernization efforts—to develop and test remote service delivery options to determine what models work best for participants.
In March 2020, Sections 2203(a)(1)(A) and 2204(a)(1) of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (PL 116-127; FFCRA) gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the authority to waive the physical presence requirement and other qualified administrative requirements that were necessary to provide assistance to program participants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the circumstances of COVID-19 evolve, USDA recognizes that remote services have become foundational to offering a modern WIC experience to participants. State agencies learned a great deal under FFCRA waivers that can be used to modernize the program via longer-term waivers of in-person requirements.
The ARPA provided the USDA with waiver authority to carry out WIC outreach, innovation, and modernization efforts to increase participation and benefit redemption. USDA will use this authority to spur nationwide program modernization by granting WIC state agencies the ability to continue to offer—and to build and improve upon—remote services. There is much more to learn as new technologies are developed and tested in WIC. FNS is eager to both support state agency efforts and learn how state agencies can best use technology to improve service delivery via our ARPA project and waiver evaluation, which is expected to begin in the summer of 2023.
Pursuant to Section 1106 of ARPA, USDA will waive the requirements below for all state agencies that elect to use each waiver (i.e., Physical Presence and/or Remote Benefit Issuance) via email to the regional office, without further application. Each waiver becomes effective when the state agency notifies their respective regional office of their election. Unless superseded by statute or FNS determines the waivers are no longer necessary or appropriate, including a situation where the state agency fails to meet the conditions under which waivers are approved, these waivers will remain in effect until:
- Sept. 30, 2026 or
- For active projects reliant on these waivers after Sept. 30, 2026, the date that FNS ends its evaluation efforts3.
The waivers available to state agencies via this letter include:
- Physical Presence: 42 USC 1786(d)(3)(C)(i) and 7 CFR 246.7(o)(1), which require that each individual seeking to participate in the WIC program must be physically present at each certification or recertification in order to determine program eligibility.
- The approval to waive the physical presence requirement includes the deferral of anthropometric and bloodwork measurements (as required in 7 CFR 246.7 (e)(1)) no later than 60 days. However, a nutrition risk assessment, which may be based on information available through online communication and/or referral data, must be completed at certification by the Competent Professional Authority (CPA). To the extent possible, state and/or local agencies must make concerted efforts to obtain referral data for anthropometric and blood iron level measurements in advance of or at the time of the appointment (see state plan requirements below)
- Remote Benefit Issuance: 7 CFR 246.12(r)(4), which requires in-person pick up of food instruments when a participant is scheduled for nutrition education or has a subsequent certification appointment.
State agencies electing to use one or both of these waivers must continue to meet all other federal WIC requirements unless additional waivers are obtained. Additionally, the state agency must provide the option for participants to obtain in-person services. Finally, state agencies that opt in must comply with FNS data requests related to waiver implementation.
State Plan Amendment Requirements
Additionally, to ensure that these new waivers support modernization of the WIC program, the state agency must ensure their state plan includes a description of how the state agency will provide the option for participants to obtain in-person services. The state agency must also ensure that their state plan amendment includes a description of how the state agency will provide remote and in-person services. State agencies should include their policies and procedures for obtaining and documenting all certification requirements including applicant/participant anthropometric and blood iron level data. For example, state agencies may choose to cite existing or planned partnerships, data sharing agreements, or use of relevant technologies (e.g., participant portals, online applications). Per 7 CFR 246.4(c), the state agency must submit any changes to state plan to the regional office. For state agencies opting into this waiver, all state plans must reflect the above requirements as soon as possible, but no later than as part of their fiscal year (FY) 2024 state plan submission, due Aug. 15, 2023. State agencies who opt in after Aug.15, 2023, must submit an approved state plan amendment as part of their notice to their respective regional office of their election to opt in.
We encourage all state agencies to consider this waiver opportunity, as well as related WIC modernization and innovation grant opportunities, as part of your efforts to improve program services. USDA appreciates state agencies’ commitment to modernizing the WIC program and looks forward to seeing how your efforts impact families nationwide. Please reach out to your respective regional offices with questions.
|Sara L. Olson|
Director, Policy Division
Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs
|Amy M. Herring|
Director, Office of Innovation
Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs