Traveling home from the recent National WIC Association Technology Conference in Portland, Ore., I found myself reflecting on what is truly a historic moment for the WIC program. Even while facing a potential funding shortfall for the first time in 30 years unless Congress acts, WIC is simultaneously taking a giant leap forward in program modernization. The long-term vision will make food benefits more accessible for the 7 million people currently enrolled, and millions more who are eligible but not yet receiving this help. I am immensely proud of the role Benefits Data Trust (BDT) has played — and will continue to play — in helping WIC state agencies across the nation design and implement data-driven strategies to connect more eligible families to this essential public health program.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding individuals, infants and children up to age 5 by providing nutritious foods, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care and social services. About half of those who are eligible for WIC are not participants.
"As the technical assistance lead for the collaboration, BDT will enter a new phase of our work connecting eligible families with the WIC program."
In the days leading up to the conference, my BDT colleagues and I were thrilled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) – which administers the WIC program – awarded a five-year, nearly $10 million cooperative agreement to streamline enrollment in WIC through data matching. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will lead the project with support from BDT and the National WIC Association. Through this collaboration, WIC state agencies will have the opportunity to apply for funding, technical assistance and evaluation support to build their capacity to connect more eligible families to WIC by matching data with other federal programs, a strategy BDT helped demonstrate is successful. As the technical assistance lead for the collaboration, BDT will enter a new phase of our work connecting eligible families with the WIC program.
BDT has nearly 20 years of expertise in streamlining access to benefits through data matching and outreach – securing more than $10 billion in assistance for families since 2005. We began applying that expertise to WIC in 2018. In partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), we identified an opportunity to bring our strengths to the WIC space through a policy known as adjunctive eligibility, which means that families enrolled in other federal programs like Medicaid or SNAP are automatically income-eligible for WIC. By analyzing the participant lists of these programs, could WIC agencies find families who are WIC-eligible, but unenrolled? We wanted to find out.
BDT and CBPP launched pilots with four states — Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, and Virginia — that demonstrated through randomized controlled trials the power of data matching and text message outreach to identify eligible nonparticipants and connect them to WIC’s benefits.
Since then, BDT has assisted 13 WIC state agencies and released a WIC data matching toolkit with CBPP. We were proud to learn that our work was influential in the federal WIC modernization strategy.
WIC’s future will be strengthened by making significant strides in technology and innovation to ensure eligible families can more easily enroll and participate. I cannot wait to get to work with more WIC state agencies to increase access to critical assistance for families across the nation.