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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

Nutrition Assistance

Hernando Today Correspondent


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Jody Smith sat inside the WIC office on Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill, her new baby girl in a car seat carrier at her feet. As the baby fussed a bit, Smith rocked the carrier gently while her 3-year-old son fidgeted next to her.

Smith and her children are not new to this process. The young boy has received nutrition assistance since birth. And Smith, who decided to nurse the new baby, relies on the program to keep her children and herself healthy.

"It helps," Smith said. She quit her job after the baby was born, and money on a single income could be stretched just so far.

WIC - Women, Infants and Children - is a federally funded nutrition program through the Department of Health that is designed to help low- to moderate-income families provide nutritional support in terms of "no-cost healthy foods, nutrition education and counseling, breast-feeding support, and referrals for health care and community services," as stated in a news release.

"The program serves as an adjunct to good health care during critical times of growth and development in order to prevent the occurrence of health problems and to improve the health status of eligible persons," the release says.

Determination for eligibility is based on income and household size. For instance, a family of four with a monthly income after taxes of less than $3,631 qualifies for assistance.

Applying for WIC is easy. Applications can be filled out online or at a local WIC office. Each applicant will receive a certification appointment where the following should be available:

??Each family member applying for WIC services.

??Proof of all income for everyone in the household, before taxes and deductions. Income includes salaries, child support and alimony, foster care payments, interest withdrawn, unemployment compensation and military earnings. Those already receiving Medicaid, Temporary Cash Assistance or Food Assistance are eligible for WIC.

??Current proof of address showing name and address. This could include a driver's license, utility bill, bank statement or insurance card.

??A WIC medical referral form from a doctor, if there is one.

??Social Security numbers for each person who is applying, if available.

??Immunization records for each child.

The program focuses on supplementing healthy choices of milk, eggs and cheese along with fruit juices, fresh fruits and vegetables. It also provides breast-feeding support, workshops and literature for healthy food choices.

In the past, WIC was distributed through a monthly voucher system where participants could shop for their items using a check system.

That is about to change. Beginning Monday, a new system will launch to make WIC easier on participants.

WIC will incorporate a new computer system and will be compatible with the Electronic Benefits Transfer system for food assistance. According to a news release, "WIC will be changing the way WIC foods are issued to clients from WIC checks to an (EBT) card."

Features of this new system will include:

??No more checks. The EBT cards will hold all the available foods for that family.

??WIC participants will now be able to choose which WIC approved foods they want to buy, where to shop for it, and when they wish to make their purchases for that assigned month.

??Balances can be checked from a home telephone, smartphone or computer.

??Each issued EBT card will have a shopping list provided, and the balance on the card will print with the receipt

The new changes will take effect at 9 a.m. Monday in Hernando, Brevard, Hillsborough, Lake/Sumter, Orange, Osceola, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

For Smith, the changes to the WIC system are appreciated. Struggling with two children in a grocery line while trying to maneuver the old check system was a bit tedious, she said. "We had to separate our purchases with each check and the clerks had to ring things up separately," she said.

The new EBT system should streamline the process, not only for clients, but for the program as well.

For more information about WIC, how to apply, and the new EBT system, contact the Hernando County WIC office at 7551 Forest Oaks Blvd.; Spring Hill 34606. Or call (352) 540-6925.

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