Georgia switching to debit cards to deliver WIC benefits

The state’s electronic pilot program began earlier this month in the district.

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Georgia will issue electronic debit cards by October for women and children who benefit from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Commonly called the WIC program, it provides food for low-income women during and after pregnancy, as well as children 5 and younger.

Georgia Public Broadcasting reports the state is one of the last to quit using paper vouchers after a 2020 mandate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for states to switch to electronic methods.

Older, traditional food stamps are displayed June 24, 2004 at an Illinois Department of Human Services office in Skokie, Illinois. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

“The state of Georgia couldn’t meet that deadline,” said Pat Mobely, WIC coordinator for the Savannah-based Coastal Health District. “So we now are complete and we’re ready to go.”

The state’s electronic pilot program began earlier this month in the district. Mobely said all beneficiaries should have a card by the end of October, giving them greater freedom to manage their spending.

“They’re going to be able to go into stores, and if they just need to go get a gallon of milk, they can go get that,” Mobely said. “They don’t have to use all their benefits at one time. So they have a whole month to use everything that’s on that card.”

Beneficiaries will also be able to check their balances online.

Roughly 200,000 women and children in Georgia take advantage of WIC benefits every year, and that number has the potential to increase with a switch to the debit cards. In a 2019 study of states that had implemented the program, there was an 8% increase in participation over three years. Most of those new participants were children. 

Georgia has long offered an electronic benefit card for the separately administered and larger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a program still called food stamps from when benefits were delivered on paper.

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