AP NEWS

Mississippi will phase out warehouses for nutrition program

December 25, 2019 GMT

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will close distribution centers for a federal nutrition program in the coming year and will move to a system that could be simpler to use.

Sometime before Oct. 1, the state will start using electronic benefits transfer cards that will allow recipients on the Women, Infants and Children program to buy food at grocery stores and pharmacies Most states are already doing that, and Mississippi is among the few still using a warehouse distribution system, the Commercial Dispatch reported.

WIC provides “nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care” to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5 who are considered to be at nutritional risk, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program serves almost half of all infants born in the United States.

WIC foods include “infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish.”

Katie Peterson, a mother of two young children, picked up packages of food recently at the WIC warehouse in Oktibbeha County.

“I don’t have a lot of free time, so coming down here can be kind of difficult at times,” Peterson said. “They often run out of stuff too, so when I’m here, I’ll have to skip a couple things that are on my list.”

Peterson said picking up WIC-approved food at a grocery store “would be wonderful.”

Each state’s health department operates the WIC program, with funding and guidelines from the USDA. The federal agency decided all 50 states must start using electronic cards for WIC recipients by Oct. 1.

Each county in Mississippi has at least one WIC warehouse. Liz Sharlot, spokeswoman for the Mississippi State Department of Health, said there will be no need for WIC warehouses once the cards are in place.

Oktibbeha County resident Mariam Reynolds, a mother of three, said she got WIC products from grocery stores when she lived in Birmingham, Alabama.

“You can go to the grocery store any time to get what you need, and you’ve probably got better options,” Reynolds said.

Selection and availability were not a problem for Peterson and her family when they lived in Illinois, which administers its WIC program at grocery stores, she said.

“If I need milk and eggs, and they don’t have eggs (at the warehouse), I either have to get the milk and skip the eggs or just get nothing at all,” Peterson said.

WIC’s transition from warehouses to grocery stores is still in the early stages of searching for and authorizing grocery stores and pharmacies as vendors, so nothing is final yet, but “the wheels are in motion,” Sharlot said.