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WIC Program: More Detailed Price and Quantity Data Could Enhance Agriculture's Assessment of WIC Program Expenditures

GAO-06-664 Published: Jul 28, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 2006.
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The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), authorizes retail grocers, called regular WIC vendors, to provide the food benefit. Recently, some states have seen an increase in vendors called WIC-only vendors, who stock only WIC food and accept only WIC vouchers. Both vendor types accept WIC vouchers in exchange for a cash payment, or redemption, from WIC state agencies with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant funds. To determine what effect WIC-only vendors' growth would have on program expenditures, in the absence of recent cost containment legislation, Congress asked GAO (1) what is known about WIC-only vendors' growth and their share of the WIC market in recent years, (2) to what extent do WIC-only and regular WIC vendors differ, and (3) what would WIC-only vendors' contribution to WIC program expenditures have been, if their market share increased. GAO analyzed national WIC vendor data, interviewed WIC state officials about vendors' business practices, and analyzed redemption data from California, Texas and Florida.


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To assist WIC state agencies in more effectively monitoring WIC vendors' redemption practices, in implementing the new cost containment requirements, and in analyzing program expenditures, the Secretary of Agriculture should require, if collection of more detailed information on WIC food purchases is cost-effective through electronic benefits transfer implementation, that WIC state agencies collect data on both the price and the quantity of each WIC food item purchased, especially in each state that authorizes WIC-only vendors.
Closed – Implemented
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), agrees with this recommendation and is implementing it. Considerable progress has been made, from a national program perspective, in implementing electronic benefits transfer (EBT) systems. Many state agencies have implemented EBT statewide now and more states have EBT planning projects underway. Among those states are the three states with the largest number of WIC-only vendors--California, Texas, and Florida--during the time period covered by our report. Texas has a statewide EBT system and both California and Florida have EBT planning projects. FNS agrees that the collection of data on both the price and food quantity of WIC food items purchased would assist the state agencies in more effectively monitoring WIC vendor's redemption practices, in implementing WIC cost containment requirements, and in analyzing program expenditures. The agency will determine whether it will require WIC food item purchased once WIC EBT implementation reaches a point where collection of that data through EBT is cost-effective. GAO believes that FNS' acknowledgement that collection of data on each item purchased is a major step forward in improving WIC state agencies' accountabilitiy for program costs.

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ChildrenCompetitionCost controlData collectionFinancial analysisFood programs for childrenInfantsWomenState-administered programsVouchers