Michigan eWIC program gets passing grade, new study finds

According to a new study, the cost savings from Michigan’s online-based Women, Infants and Children benefits program are significant, compared to the paper-based system used previously. Despite an estimated 15 percent growth in the state’s WIC program, the analysis found a likely 27 percent savings in processing costs.

The eWIC program allows Michigan the ability to share costs and efficiencies with the state’s SNAP, or food stamp, Bridge Card EBT system under a common master contract with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS). Despite similar efforts underway in Kentucky and Nevada, Michigan’s eWIC program is the nation’s first to implement an “affordable online, magnetic card platform,” the study said. Texas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and the Isleta Pueblo and the Cherokee Nation currently operate off-line/smartcard systems.

The study, conducted by Burger, Carroll & Associates, Inc., found that eWIC has saved the Michigan WIC program some 27 percent of Nutrition Services and Administration grant dollars over the paper-based system.

Under the state’s food delivery system, Michigan’s prior program, vouchers were redeemed at the store for approved WIC foods. Retailers then batched the vouchers and sent them to the state for processing, later receiving checks for approved voucher purchases. The eWIC pilot program began in 2005 with JP Morgan handling the EBT system. Initial savings were projected at five cents per participant-per month over paper. In September 2007, the pilot was turned over to ACS who oversaw the statewide rollout of eWIC in 2008 and 2009.

Due to additional requirements and increased standards from 2005 to 2009, program officials said the move to a electronic and Internet-based system was needed more than ever. Because the system processes transactions in real-time and immediately validates purchases, recipients have added flexibility, convenience and security over traditional WIC paper vouchers. The estimated dollar savings is over $1.3 million per year with the eWIC system, the report found.

“Maximizing program efficiency helps to ensure that the state can help as many people as possible,” Joseph Doherty, executive vice president and group president of ACS Government Solutions, said in a statement. “This study shows that the EBT program can have a significant impact on a state’s operations.”