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WIC Technology for a Better WIC Experience – Communications, Data, and Metrics Grant – Notice of Funding Availability

Resource type
Technical Assistance & Guidance
Guidance Documents
DATE:August 8, 2022
SUBJECT:Technology for a Better WIC Experience – Communications, Data, and Metrics Grant – Notice of Funding Availability
TO:Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All FNS Regional Offices

GMAS Directors
All FNS Regional Offices

WIC State Agency Directors
All WIC 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 fiscal year (FY) 2024, to carry out outreach, innovation, and program modernization efforts to increase participation and redemption of benefits in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

As part of the WIC innovation and modernization efforts to be funded under ARPA, FNS will provide non-competitive grants to WIC state agencies for planning and implementation of technology enhancements that improve the WIC participant experience, as evidenced by increasing participant enrollment, reducing unnecessary administrative burden for both participants and administrators, and retaining eligible participants while improving equity. This funding may be used for a wide range of planning and/or implementation activities.

State agencies are encouraged to apply for funding regardless of where they are in the process of modernizing. State agencies are encouraged to use human centered design1 to plan for and/or implement projects to improve communication and/or reduce the burden on WIC participants, applicants, and/or eligible individuals by allowing them to interact with the program more easily; reduce the burden on local agency and clinic staff by streamlining operations related to the participant experience; define measures to assess participant satisfaction and experience; embed mechanisms for continuous participant feedback in line with government-wide standards for customer experience; and embed data collection efforts to enable evaluation and continuous learning.

Eligibility & Funding Levels

This is an announcement of the availability of non-competitive funding to be awarded in FY 2022 to WIC state agencies. A total of $31,150,000 is available for FY 2022. Using the same approach, additional rounds of funding may be made available in FY 2023 through the end of FY 2024 for state agencies that did not receive funding under this announcement, and for future phases of projects, pending the availability of remaining funding. All 89 WIC state agencies are eligible to apply for $350,000 in grant funding under this announcement to be awarded in FY 2022. Only one application per state agency will be considered. State agencies may apply for funding on their own or as part of a multi-state agency collaboration. A lead state agency must be selected for a multi-state agency collaboration.

Grants will be awarded on a non-competitive basis. All eligible state agencies that submit a complete application package consistent with the goals and objectives outlined in the Use of Funds section of this announcement will receive $350,000 in grant funding. Funding requests as outlined in the SF-424A must be reasonable, allowable, and allocable to the project goals and objectives. Funding of these awards will be provided through the Grant Award FNS-529/Letter of Credit process. The awards will be made via a grant agreement between FNS and the grantee. The period of performance for this award will be from Sept. 26, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2024. State agencies must obligate grant funds by Sept. 30, 2024.

Use of Funds

State agencies may use grant funding for one or more of the projects included in this Notice of Funding Availability, as described below. In accordance with Executive Order 14058: Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government, projects must aim to improve the WIC participant experience, with the goals of increasing participant enrollment and retention while improving equity. State agencies are encouraged to use human centered design to plan for and/or implement projects to improve communication with or reduce the burden on WIC participants, applicants, and eligible individuals by allowing them to interact with the program more easily; reduce the burden on local agency and clinic staff by streamlining operations related to the participant experience; and improve metrics gathered to assess participant satisfaction and other key programmatic areas. To the extent possible, projects should be scalable and transferrable to other WIC state agencies.

Projects at any stage are eligible for funding (i.e., planning, research, development, testing, implementation, evaluation, expansion, enhancement, and/or integration with MIS). Funds may be used to hire staffing resources (including, but not limited to, project managers, grant writers, and/or technical staff), and/or to secure vendors. State agencies may also use funding for introductory research activities with WIC participants to identify which allowable activities should be prioritized to best serve participants.

Allowable project types for this grant opportunity include:

A. Text Messaging
State agencies may use funding for projects that allow participants to engage with WIC through channels (i.e., methods of communication) that are easier and more convenient for them, such as text messaging. State agencies may also use funding for projects that reduce the burden of new channels on clinic staff, such as upgrading text messaging tools to interface with their MIS for a more seamless experience. Projects should consider security, as well as any associated costs to participants (e.g., fees per text).

Project suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • One-way text communication
    • Benefit expiration reminders
    • Appointment reminders
    • Recertification reminders
    • Nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion and support resources (e.g., information, links)
  • Two-way text communication
    • Appointment reminders with an option to confirm or reschedule
    • Secure document submission
    • Interactive nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion or support
  • Improving communication effectiveness
    • Testing and refining messages to improve participant understanding and satisfaction, increase response rate, and/or incorporate new message types
    • Providing text message support in additional languages
  • MIS updates
    • Integration of text messaging solutions with MIS in order to trigger automatic reminders and/or improve case management
    • Updates to MIS to store communication channel preferences (e.g., phone, text, email) and/or language preferences
  • Business process updates
    • Updating state agency, local agency, and/or clinic policies, procedures, and processes to support the effective use of text messaging
    • Training staff on new tools and/or business processes

B. Mobile Phone Support
State agencies may use funding for projects that support improving access for participants, applicants, and eligible individuals accessing web-based resources using mobile devices. For participants who may not have internet access at home and solely use their mobile phone to access the internet to browse and explore WIC services, projects in this realm may focus on making WIC websites mobile-friendly.

Project suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • Update web-based program information and resources to be mobile-responsive and easy to use and navigate when accessed via a mobile phone
  • Update web-based program information and resources to use a design system with built-in accessibility and mobile-responsiveness, such as the U.S. Web Design System

C. Appointment Scheduling Tools
State agencies may use funding for tools, such as online or text message scheduling tools, that allow participants to schedule appointments without needing to call during clinic hours. These tools are convenient for participants with busy schedules and remove phone wait times for scheduling, making it easier for participants to remain active in WIC.

Project suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • Online or text message-based appointment scheduling for certification, nutrition education, and other appointment types
  • Integration of automated appointment scheduling and/or messaging platforms into MIS
  • Business process updates and training to support the effective use of online scheduling tools

D. Plain Language & Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Support
State agencies may use funding to develop or improve participant-facing tools and resources to use plain, participant-friendly language that is more easily understood by participants. State agencies may also use funding to invest in tools, resources, and services to better serve people with limited English proficiency. State and local agency materials written in plain language (see plainlanguage.gov) and in the languages needed to serve eligible individuals within the state agency’s jurisdiction promote equity and make it easier to access benefits and services. Development of materials for and with users is encouraged.

Project suggestions include, but are not limited to:

  • Updating digital and printed resources to participant-friendly, plain language. Examples:
    • Program overview information
    • Enrollment information and application materials
    • Shopping resources
    • Nutrition education and breastfeeding promotion and support materials
    • Referral information for other federal and state benefit programs (e.g., Medicaid, SNAP, Affordable Connectivity Program)
  • Integrating any FNS-published plain language guidance into MIS
  • Updates to MIS and/or eligibility screening tools, resources, and business practices to implement plain language best practice recommendations for race, ethnicity, and voter registration questions
  • Obtaining localized in-person and/or virtual interpreter support as a more personal complement to phone translation services
  • Translation of digital and printed materials into multiple languages (including materials across various media types, e.g., voice tracks or captions for videos)
  • Development of culturally tailored materials in native languages (i.e., rather than translating from English)
  • Updates to MIS to record language preferences

E. Data Analysis, Visualization & Ongoing Measurement
State agencies may use funding to:

  1. Gather metrics necessary to develop and/or update data analysis and visualization tools in order to improve the state agency’s ability to analyze, share, and leverage data to support and improve program initiatives.

    Project suggestions include, but are not limited to:
    • Updating MIS or other technology tools to gather program performance measures, such as number of participants served by key categories, recertification rates, benefit utilization, and data at the local agency level
    • Developing dashboards, reports, or data visualizations to aid with the analysis of program performance; identify trends, patterns, and outliers; and aid with decision-making about program improvements
    • Making performance data public to share key data insights across a variety of stakeholders and promote accountability for program performance
    • Updating business processes to use data to promote continual improvement
  2. Include mechanisms to continually collect participant feedback and define measures used to assess the participant experience. This includes participant surveys at every stage of the WIC process to evaluate key services such as the initial application, certification experience, breastfeeding promotion and support, and nutrition education. In FY 2023, FNS will provide resources on metrics based on Executive Order 14058: Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. This Executive Order provides a framework for development of metrics and survey questions to obtain participant feedback; additional information specific to customer experience measurement can be found in OMB Circular A-11, Section 280.

F. Publicly-Available Data Sets
State agencies are encouraged to use funding to publish and regularly update publicly available (“open”) data sets in machine-readable formats (i.e., CSV, APIs). Publishing data in a machine-readable format can enable third parties to develop applications or services that complement FNS and WIC state agency efforts to expand enrollment and increase equity in delivery, such as:

  • Publishing and regularly updating open data sets of locations of WIC clinics
  • Publishing and regularly updating open data sets of services provided at each WIC clinic (e.g., certification, breastfeeding support)
  • Publishing and regularly updating open data sets of locations of WIC authorized vendors
  • Publishing and regularly updating open data sets of WIC authorized foods (e.g., APLs)
  • Updating existing locator tools to use the new, open data sets so that results from state tools and third-party tools provide consistent results

G. Additional Technology and/or Human Centered Design Projects
State agencies may use funding for additional technology and/or human-centered design projects with the goal(s) of increasing participant enrollment and retention and improving equity. State agencies are strongly encouraged to use human centered design to plan for and/or implement projects. Projects must fall into one of the categories outlined in this memo to be eligible for funding under this grant opportunity.

How to Apply

To request $350,000 in grant funding under this announcement, interested state agencies or multi-state agency collaborations must submit all requested information in suggested template Attachment A: Non-Competitive Technology for a Better WIC Experience – Communications, Data, and Metrics Grant Proposal Template via email to their respective FNS regional office with cc: to SM.FNCS.WIC.Innovation@usda.gov. State agencies must complete all information in Attachment A to be considered. Applications must be received no later than 11:59 PM Eastern Time on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. Late applications will not be considered.

FNS Regional OfficePoint of Contact (email)
Mid-Atlantic Regional OfficeJaime Van Lieu
Midwest Regional OfficeJheanell West
Mountain Plains Regional OfficeSandra.Clark@usda.gov
Northeast Regional OfficeMichelle.D'Auria@usda.gov
Southeast Regional OfficeSandy.Benton-Davis@usda.gov
Southwest Regional OfficeDarrell.Allen@usda.gov
Western Regional OfficeMarisa.Cheung@usda.gov

All standard forms (SF) listed below can be found on Grants.gov here. A complete application will include:

  • Attachment A: Non-Competitive Technology for a Better WIC Experience – Communications, Data, and Metrics Grant (to be completed by state agency)
  • SF-424 Application for Federal Assistance
  • SF-424A Budget Information for Non-Construction Programs
    • Please submit a budget request (SF-424 Form) for $350,000 per grantee or per member of a multi-state agency collaboration. For multi-state agency collaborations, the lead state agency will be responsible for the funds. FNS may adjust the award amount depending on the availability of funds.
  • SF-424B Assurances for Non-Construction Programs
  • SF-LLL Disclosure of Lobbying Activities

Note for projects that impact EBT/MIS: Prior to the state agency obligating or expending funds under the awarded grant, it must submit to the regional office a description of the contract and/or procurement efforts to support the project, including any changes made to the MIS or EBT system/contract. In the submission, the state agency must highlight any changes to the total cost of the MIS/EBT contract and any changes to the period of performance. FNS reserves the right to request additional documentation, but will conduct an expedited review, where possible.

Award and Reporting Requirements

Grant Agreement: When awards are made, state agencies and FNS must sign a FNS-529 Grant Award form. A fully executed FNS-529 agreement, with terms and conditions, will serve as the official grant agreement.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA): The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number for this grant project award is: 10.557.

Reporting: Selected applicants will be required to provide quarterly SF-425, Financial Status Reports, and quarterly FNS-908 Performance Progress Report, using the narrative portion of the form. State agencies must keep the list of project types updated on the quarterly FNS-908 report. The SF-425, Financial Status Report must be submitted in the FNS Food Program Reporting System (FPRS). Performance progress will be captured under the narrative portion of the FNS-908 (to be submitted via email to the FNS regional office in PDF form). The grantee will be responsible for providing periodic project updates to FNS and/or an FNS contractor to be reported to the Secretary of Agriculture in accordance with Executive Order 14058: Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government. Within 120 days after the termination date, and upon completion of the grant, the grantee shall submit a concise final summary performance progress report using the FNS-908 narrative portion. Financial status reporting will be required quarterly. Specific details will be provided in the terms and conditions of the grant award.

Beyond the performance progress reporting activities of this grant and throughout the course of the project, FNS will be conducting an evaluation of ARPA-funded projects on WIC outreach, innovation, and program modernization efforts. As such, the grantee may be asked to participate in FNS-sponsored administrative data collections, surveys, interviews, and focus groups that are part of this larger evaluation. In its application, the grantee shall affirm their willingness to participate in any data collection activities related to the overarching evaluation. The grantee shall also indicate a willingness to participate in activities around sharing project descriptions and lessons learned, such as FNS regional office webinars, roundtables, conferences, etc.

508 Compliance: Where applicable, deliverables must be designed to be 508 compliant. Chapter 5 of the Revised 508 Standards and 255 Guidelines (access-board.gov), outlines the key components to achieve such interoperability.

FNS Participation

These grants will be managed by the FNS regional offices. FNS regional program offices will provide ongoing technical assistance via the quarterly FNS-908 performance progress reports and FNS regional grants management administrative services directors will provide technical assistance via the quarterly FNS-425 financial reports in FPRS. Regional program offices will monitor the grantee’s project activities and ensure costs are within the scope of this grant. FNS may also provide periodic on-site and off-site technical assistance and guidance on project activities and outputs as they relate to this project, including:

  • Review of project plans and milestones;
  • Review of project documents;
  • Evaluation of technology, including systems and/or apps;
  • Other technical assistance and program evaluation related to project objectives.

State agencies may direct any questions related to this funding opportunity to their respective FNS regional offices.


AMY HERRING
Director, Office of Innovation
Supplemental Nutrition and Safety Programs

Attachments


1 Human centered design (HCD, as defined in Executive Order 14058) and user centered design (UCD) are methodologies that put people, especially those who will use or be impacted by what one creates, at the center of any process to solve challenging problems. HCD/UCD methods incorporate input and feedback from the people for whom you are designing throughout the design process to validate whether people’s needs are being met and to reduce risk. Resources for using HCD/UCD in your project: Methods -18F Methods, Basic principles of modern software design | De-risking government technology | 18F.

Page updated: December 18, 2023