A transition from paper checks to reloadable electronic benefit transfer cards will be finalized this month for the Kansas Women, Infants and Children food and nutrition program.

The eWic program already has been rolled out as far west as Russell County, and the northwest region of the state — including Ellis County — will be the last to go live May 30. The benefits will be stored digitally and the cards can be scanned at local grocery stores similar to a debit card.

“It’s been very well received,” said Russell County Health Administrator Paula Bitter, who said that county made the transition in early April.

Those receiving WIC benefits can continue using any remaining checks, and will be transferred to digital benefits at their next regular appointment. WIC clients must meet income requirements and visit county WIC distribution offices regularly for nutrition education and consultation. The frequency of required visits depends on the family’s needs, Bitter said.

The program is intended to benefit pregnant women and mothers who are breastfeeding or post-partum, infants and children up to age 5. Only certain items qualify for WIC funding, including infant formula, milk and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The electronic program began with a pilot in Shawnee County in 2017 and implementation began in January.

Ellis County WIC clients do not need to make a special trip to the clinic for their benefit card — it will be provided at their next regular visit, said program coordinator Laura Leiker.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a transition, but I think once everybody gets their card, it will be a lot easier for everybody,” Leiker said. “We’re still issuing checks right now for the next three months, but six months from now, everybody’s going to be on a card.”

The transition in Russell County has caused only a few minor glitches, Bitter said, as those clients haven’t been able to use their benefits at grocery stores in surrounding counties that haven’t implemented the eWic program. In some cases, local grocery stores also have had to update their point of sales systems if an item did not ring up correctly as WIC eligible, she said.

The benefit cards can be accompanied by a smartphone app, the WIC Shopper App, that will help track a client’s purchases and the credits they still have available. One card will be distributed per family, making it easier to track benefits for the mother and qualifying children.

Russell County has approximately 125 clients using the WIC program, while Ellis County serves approximately 530 each month.

Families who are in need of nutritional assistance are encouraged to apply for the program to find out if they are eligible, Leiker said, noting applications can be filled out at the county health clinic or online at kansaswic.org. The state allocates a certain amount of money per county, and Ellis County is not running at full capacity, she said.

“If they’re struggling out there, call in and see if they qualify,” Leiker said. “We can do that over the phone.”