The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) by providing federal grants to 89 state agencies. State agencies implement WIC through local agencies where eligible participants receive tailored food benefits, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care and social services.
A primary WIC benefit is the supplemental food package. Historically, participants redeemed the food packages using paper-based food instruments at authorized vendors. Since 2010, state agencies have been transitioning to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which allows WIC food purchases to occur electronically. At the time of this study in 2015, 14 state agencies provided WIC food benefits exclusively via EBT. All state agencies are expected to implement WIC EBT by 2023.
In compliance with the Payment Integrity Information Act (PIIA) of 2019, FNS routinely conducts the WIC Vendor Management Study (WVMS). The study, last published in 2013, measures improper payments associated with vendor payment error and the extent to which WIC vendors comply with program rules. To inform future studies in the series, this study examined compliance with program requirements and rates of violations among WIC EBT vendors in 2015 and tested a method to identify errors that contribute to improper payments in an EBT environment.
- Very few vendors committed errors that contributed to improper payments. Future studies will need larger sample sizes than prior studies or different analytic approaches to develop valid improper payment estimates.
- Future methods should carefully consider which prices from the transaction record should be compared when determining the best purchase price for each food item.
- Requests for EBT data from state agencies should include specific and detailed data requirements to ensure consistent and complete data are obtained.
- The timing of transaction data requests needs to be considered to account for post-transaction editing that occurs.