WIC program upgrades spur more convenience, efficiency
by Michael Barrett
June 4, 2014
WIC benefits assist thousands of low-income women and their children every month in Gaston County. State and local officials say too many hours have been spent dealing with tedious paperwork while signing up or renewing clients as part of the federal program. But a new system is streamlining those steps, saving time for clients and allowing workers to spend more time educating moms about things such as good nutrition habits.
"We are still getting our feet wet," said Kristi Jones, WIC director for the Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services. "But in general, our staff has picked it up quickly and has done a good job adjusting to it. It will make things go quicker."
WIC refers to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. It promotes health care and nutrition for low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children under the age of 5.
MORE CONSULTATION, LESS PAPER: Food vouchers and other support is provided to WIC applicants, who can earn no more than 185 percent of the poverty level. The program is entirely federally funded. Late last month, Gaston was one of nine counties to implement a new computer system known as Crossroads. It aims to make the WIC program more efficient for recipients by making a largely paper-based process more electronic. Officials say it is already leading to easier scheduling, quicker benefit pickups, faster transfers of cases from county to county, and food packages that more adequately meet family needs. In the past, a mother with two young children applying for WIC benefits would have filled out three separate forms each time.
"You had to complete that same document each time, for each person," said Josephine Cialone, who heads nutrition services for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. "It’s been a very labor-intensive, paper-based system."
STREAMLINING THE PROCESS: Under the Crossroads system, data is entered electronically for an entire family, substantially cutting down on paperwork that applicants have to endure.
"It's gone quite well," Cialone said of the implementation in Gaston County and elsewhere. "Our goal is for staff to spend less time filling out forms and documenting things on paper, and more time with the families we serve, to help them get referrals and the help they need."