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Public Health Department Lifts Vendor Moratorium for WIC Food Program

The California Department of Public Health this week announced the lifting of a moratorium on adding new stores to its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food program. That means more than 250 grocery stores across California can be added to the WIC program in the first two phases of implementation.

The moratorium was first imposed in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an attempt to get a better handle on cost-containment by limiting the number of grocery outlets.

“With the moratorium lifted, more stores will be able to accept WIC vouchers and … to provide healthy supplemental foods to pregnant women, new mothers, infants or children under age five,” according to Scott Sandow, public affairs officer with the California Department of Public Health.

USDA officials notified California health officials Monday that the moratorium can now be lifted to allow additional stores, Sandow said.

Bringing more stores into the program is intended to improve access and food availability for roughly 1.4 million California beneficiaries in the WIC program.

The 2012 moratorium “was implemented to allow CDPH to focus on developing and implementing strategies to contain costs and enhance program integrity,” Sandow said in a written release. “USDA has been satisfied with the progress in California and has therefore approved lifting the moratorium in phases.”

The first phase, started in June, eventually allowed 167 stores back into the program. The current phase is expected to add about 100 more stores.

WIC spends approximately $86 million each month on food. The state implemented a number of cost-saving measures to offset the rising cost of food.

According to Sandow, the measures included:

  • A revision of vendor authorization criteria, vendor peer group structure and reimbursement rate methodology;
  • Adjustments to allowable foods to reduce costs without impacting the nutrition benefit to participants;
  • Expansion of vendor education and oversight activities; and
  • Increasing staff, revising organizational structure and improving operations. 

“The previous vendor reimbursement methodology differentiated stores by size, but not by type,” Sandow said in his statement. “The current methodology separates full-line grocery stores from other types of stores.  In addition, vendor oversight has always been a priority, but had primarily been conducted after stores were in the program. California WIC has implemented vendor authorization criteria in regulations to ensure that oversight activities begin before authorization.”

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