|DATE:||September 29, 2021|
|SUBJECT:||The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP) Outreach, Innovation, and Program Modernization Strategy|
|TO:||WIC State Agency Directors
All WIC State Agencies
|WIC FMNP State Agency Directors
All WIC FMNP State Agencies
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (PL 117-2) (ARPA) provided the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with $390 million, available through FY 2024, to carry out outreach, innovation, and program modernization efforts to increase participation and redemption of benefits for both the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP).
While the ARPA legislation and funding is not intended to make regulatory changes or support ongoing service delivery, program activities or updates to MIS systems, the legislation provides USDA with reasonable latitude to make impactful, transformative program investments that support bold outcomes such as improving health equity, reducing maternal mortality and morbidity, and improving child health outcomes.
Earlier this year, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) committed to hearing from a diverse range of program stakeholders to solicit input on ways to connect more eligible people to program benefits, opportunities to improve the participant experience, and ideas on how to streamline benefit delivery and reduce disparities in program delivery.
In May and June 2021, FNS held 27 listening sessions with more than 200 WIC stakeholders, ranging from WIC and WIC FMNP state agency professionals to program participants, industry and retail partners, advocates, academics, federal partners, and tribes. Overwhelmingly, comments received by stakeholders during the listening sessions and in writing stressed the importance of creating partnerships across sectors as an integral step to improving equity and program access. Stakeholders also voiced support for investments in online technology solutions to improve the overall participant experience -- from getting eligible people connected to benefits to using benefits. Additionally, the feedback encouraged improvements to the WIC clinic experience, development of the WIC workforce, and vendor and farmer engagement and support. Above all, stakeholders urged USDA to take an active role in supporting a participant-centered approach to program investments with a focus on equity and inclusion.
FNS also partnered with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to conduct research on how to improve the WIC certification process. The USDS research validated the need to move operations towards a future-state that delivers benefits and services that meet people where they are and reduces the burden of participating in the program.
FNS has utilized all of this input to develop an administrative framework for the investment of the ARPA funds to fulfill two goals: increase WIC enrollment and retention and reduce disparities in program delivery. FNS will seek to accomplish these goals through the following efforts:
- Increase enrollment and retention by raising awareness of WIC’s benefits and services. FNS will test and evaluate innovative state-level outreach and engagement approaches to identify successful strategies for reaching underserved communities. FNS will also develop a national WIC public health outreach campaign, using both traditional and non-traditional partnerships, to reach WIC eligible individuals and increase public awareness of the health and nutrition benefits associated with participating in WIC.
- Increase enrollment and retention by certifying people for program benefits in a way that is participant-centered and reduces disparities in program delivery. FNS will support the development and implementation of business practices and technology tools that improve and streamline the participant experience. FNS will invest in a national technical assistance center (TA center) to apply human-centered design principles to the WIC application and certification process and assist states in implementing both business and technology solutions to improve the WIC participant experience. The TA center will also develop evaluation resources to assess the effectiveness of policies and procedures on enrollment and retention and it will support WIC Peer-to-Peer Learning Centers for state agencies to share their approaches for increasing enrollment and retention.
- Reduce disparities in program delivery by improving the shopping experience. FNS will support a range of efforts, including online ordering and benefit transactions, to simplify and improve the shopping experience to address disparities in food access. FNS will also expand opportunities to transact benefits electronically at farmers markets.
- Reduce disparities in program delivery by ensuring equitable access to program benefits. FNS will support state agencies in implementing evidence-based approaches to address disparities in service delivery. This may include building new local partnerships to ensure WIC clinics are meeting the needs of their service community and providing culturally appropriate and competent care or establishing pipelines for WIC workforce development and advancement.
You can expect regular communications regarding these opportunities as each of them is further developed and funding is made available.
We wish to extend our sincere gratitude for providing feedback to assist FNS in the development of this investment framework, and we look forward to working closely with you in the near future as we make positive, meaningful and long-lasting improvements to WIC and WIC FMNP.
USDA Food and Nutrition Service