FNS proposes to remove barriers to online ordering and internet-based transactions in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This proposed rule is expected to improve the WIC shopping experience while increasing equity and access to nutritious foods for WIC participants, thus positively impacting nutrition security.
- What are the goals of the WIC Online Ordering and Transactions Proposed Rule?
FNS is proposing changes to empower state efforts to modernize WIC. The revisions propose to:
- Remove barriers to online shopping using WIC benefits including removing the legal requirement that a WIC shopper must complete their transaction in the presence of a cashier.
- Streamline and modernize how WIC participants get their benefits, including encouraging WIC state agencies to allow for issuing benefits remotely, when possible.
- Meet the needs of a modern, data-driven program, including setting the expectation that states create two new WIC staff positions to support the demands of creating online shopping in WIC.
- How would these changes benefit participants?
The current in-person WIC shopping requirements can be challenging for families, particularly those with limited mobility or limited access to transportation, those who live in remote or rural communities, and individuals with special dietary needs who require supplemental foods that may not be available at the closest WIC-authorized grocery store. The proposed rule would remove barriers to other shopping options beyond traditional in-person transactions, including online ordering.
USDA also expects WIC households will benefit from additional flexibilities for benefit issuance and pickup, and the overall improved experience of shopping for and completing a WIC transaction. The proposed rule would encourage state agencies to remotely issue electronic benefits and mail EBT cards when possible, potentially reducing the number of required in-person visits to clinics by WIC participants. Overall, the proposed changes would advance nutrition security by improving the WIC shopping experience and ensuring that WIC participants have equitable access to nutritious foods.
- When will WIC participants be able to shop online?
Families who shop for food using WIC benefits should have the same convenient shopping options everyone else has. FNS is working to remove the regulatory barriers that currently prevent online shopping in WIC, but the process will take time. We are proposing this rule now – gathering feedback to inform the final rule – as an important step forward in that process.
- Are any of the temporary changes made during COVID proposed to be made permanent in this rule?
Yes. This proposed rule was informed by extensive stakeholder engagement, including but not limited to feedback on waivers of WIC regulatory requirements issued to WIC state agencies as part of USDA’s COVID-19 response. These waivers were allowed under time-limited authority granted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This rule would make permanent flexibilities that simplified participants’ and stakeholders’ engagement with WIC – such as remote benefit issuance, transactions without the presence of a cashier, and virtual vendor monitoring. Nearly all WIC state agencies reported that certain COVID-19 waivers, including remote benefit issuance waivers, ultimately made WIC safer, more accessible, and more convenient for participants’ schedules.
- Why is FNS revising the regulations to support online shopping for WIC?
The way Americans shop and pay for food has evolved in recent years, with options like online shopping, curbside pickup, and delivery helping make food more accessible and easing the burden of busy family life. FNS heard feedback from WIC participants and stakeholders loud and clear – and we agree: families who shop for food using WIC benefits should have the same convenient shopping options everyone else has.
FNS has incorporated feedback from WIC participants, industry partners like retailers and electronic benefit transaction processors, and stakeholder listening sessions into this proposed rule to reflect the needs of busy, modern WIC families.
WIC families are busy, and they deserve the same opportunities other families have for making grocery shopping as efficient and painless as possible, particularly those with limited mobility or limited access to transportation, those who live in remote or rural communities, and individuals with special dietary needs who require supplemental foods that may not be available at the closest WIC-authorized grocery store.
- How did FNS come up with these proposed changes?
To inform the development of this propose rule, FNS reviewed materials developed by a variety of WIC stakeholders, including the Blueprint for WIC Online Ordering Projects, which was developed by the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition through a cooperative agreement with FNS; and the Task Force on Supplemental Foods Delivery Recommendations Report, which was developed by a task force convened by USDA comprised of 18 organizations from multiple sectors to ensure a diverse range of input from WIC providers, vendors, manufacturers, EBT processors, advocacy organizations, WIC participants, and additional stakeholders.
This proposed rule addresses the online shopping recommendations from these documents that are within the appropriate scope of this rulemaking. In some instances, FNS has taken a different approach than recommended, but the proposed revisions reflect the overall goals of these stakeholder efforts while adhering to the general purpose and scope of the WIC program.
This proposed rule was also informed by states, territories and tribes that operate WIC along with WIC participant feedback. It incorporates lessons learned from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) efforts to support online shopping for SNAP participants, including the importance of building program integrity measures into all levels of oversight.
- What is USDA doing to make WIC more beneficial to more people?
WIC is one of the most powerful, evidence-based public health programs available, with a long history of improving health and developmental outcomes for children. Given the program’s proven benefits, FNS is committed to modernizing WIC to maximize its impact throughout participants’ entire period of eligibility. USDA recently announced several major investments to modernize WIC, support innovation at the state agency level, and help reach more eligible families.
FNS has already been working toward WIC online shopping, awarding $4.1 million to the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to provide technical support and documentation to assist state agencies as they embark on future online shopping projects, and to support the development and testing of WIC online shopping pilot projects with eight WIC state agency sub-grantees. More information about the WIC state agencies, partners, and projects can be found at Center for Nutrition — WIC Online Ordering.
In addition, FNS is leveraging the waiver authorities granted by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided $390 million for outreach, innovation, and modernization in WIC and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. As part of that, since 2022, USDA has awarded about $11 million to 21 state agencies interested in modernizing in-store and online shopping, with additional rounds of funding planned for this year and fiscal year 2024. FNS has approved more than 45 ARPA waivers to support outreach, innovation, and modernization. The flexibilities these state agencies have requested are reflected in the changes USDA is introducing through this proposed rule; project results will provide critical information to support the development of the final rule.
Visit the WIC Modernization & Innovation webpage to learn more.
- What is FNS doing to ensure the security of WIC benefits?
FNS recognizes the importance of keeping WIC benefits safe and secure as it proposes removing barriers to online shopping and promoting innovation in WIC. In this rule, USDA is proposing WIC transaction security authentication policies as each WIC state, territory or tribe determines the best path forward for WIC online shopping for their respective area.
State agencies would have the flexibility to develop transaction authentication policies that are appropriate and secure for the specific technologies they adopt, while ensuring a level of consistency across WIC state agencies.
In addition, FNS will provide fraud prevention technical assistance to WIC state agencies and support them in updating their policies to prevent and detect fraud as future shopping and payment methods evolve and will educate and empower WIC participants to proactively safeguard their benefits.