Author Topic: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?  (Read 2022 times)

24andfrugal

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 92
Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« on: April 29, 2020, 01:34:49 PM »
This happened a few weeks ago, but I'm curious to get the thoughts of people on here.

Around the time the shutdowns started, a post made its rounds on social media which said that people should pay attention to whether or not the grocery items they were purchasing were WIC eligible, and if they were, to leave those on the shelves for people with WIC/SNAP benefits and buy non-WIC goods for themselves. I had never paid attention to whether or not items were WIC-eligible before, but I took a look on my next trip to the store and it seems like most store-brand goods fall into that category. So I am curious, since we are all penny pinchers, especially on groceries, what do you all think of this?

I am not a particularly big fan of the idea, since it is hard for me to reconcile spending perhaps 30% more to buy a name-brand item when I don't get any additional value from it, and it also seems like an inefficient way to try to get these goods into the hands of the intended recipients as there's no way to ensure that the next (non-WIC-using) shopper won't take the store brand can of beans I purposefully avoided. So far I have gone on with my usual approach, which is to buy whatever I need/want but try to leave a few cans of XYZ for the next person (if possible).

Paul der Krake

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5717
  • Age: 14
  • Location: UTC-10:00
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2020, 01:51:32 PM »
Okay so maybe I don't understand how WIC works enough, but in my experience the WIC items are almost never the cheapest. I suspect there is some sort of weird dynamics at play where once a product is accepted to be on the list you have no incentive to make it competitive, since the buyers have to choose from that list.

Would love to hear a good explanation though.

HipGnosis

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1721
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2020, 03:01:13 PM »
I'm on WIC(SNAP). I'm FIRE.  I signed up for the low income health plan and they gave me WIC.
Almost all foods are WIC eligible.   Hot foods aren't.
I don't think I've ever seen a 'WIC-eligible' sign.   Maybe it's a state-by-state thing.

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2020, 03:04:03 PM »
Do you know if your state has WIC cards or checks? Regulations vary by state of course, but assuming cards (all states and tribal organizations are supposed to be rolled out with cards by 10/1/2020, but of course there are a few stragglers) there is at least some truth there.

Rather than just giving you money to spend on food, WIC authorizes you to purchase specified foods and then pays the store whatever the price is for that food. Under the check-based system, there was obviously a lot of slop. A WIC voucher might say "1 Gallon of whole milk, 1 jar of peanut butter, and 36 ounces of cereal". So the customer would pick out those things and hand the cashier a voucher. The amount would be printed or hand written onto the voucher, along with the vendor number and then it goes into the drawer, eventually through the banking system and the store eventually gets paid. Actually worked pretty well on aggregate, however there are some obvious holes in the system - what if the customer only bought 36 ounces of cereal? Arguments over the prevalance of this kind of thing made implementing cost-containment measures pretty difficult.

The big cost-containment measure that did get implemented a long time ago was requiring state WIC programs to solicit bids from infant formula manufacturers to be the preferred infant formula in that state - manufacturers agree to rebate a percentage of the wholesale cost of the formula to the WIC program. Absent a medical reason for something else, if you're on WIC and receiving infant formula, it will be the contract formula that is issued for your child. So figuring the amount of formula bought by WIC is a somewhat tricky analysis, but there was enough money at stake that the manufacturers and WIC programs agreed on how to do it. But still arguments come up from time to time - how do you know that check was redeemed for all 10 cans and not 7? Larger states this rebate comes to 7 or 8 figures every month, and push comes to shove, we really don't know for sure.

On top of that, the in-store shopping experience for WIC participants was not great. Cashiers had to be trained on what to do, and all the rules of the program such as WIC participants are supposed to buy the lowest-cost option of whatever it is. A certain stigma as the transaction was not like a normal grocery store purchase. Confusion at places that did not specialize in WIC customers was rampant, and they found the stores that did specialize in WIC were often charging a pretty high price to the program. So we need to contain costs, but we're somewhat limited in rules that can be implemented because the data isn't super clean, and margins being thin in grocery means there's push back on anything you try.

Enter the WIC card - solves a lot of these problems. Stigma is lower, once participants learn the way the cards work it is a much closer to a normal purchase - put your stuff on the belt, cashier rings it up, you swipe the card and enter your pin. Anything not covered can then be paid for. One really positive thing during this crisis with the cards - if a family already has a card, there is no need to deliver anything physical to them to issue further benefits. Like say a stack of paper checks for the next month's benefits. And we've got really good redemption data now.

But the core of the program has not changed - we're still not giving out cash to buy groceries with, we're issuing 10 cans of formula and so on. So the WIC program provides an approved product list to the EBT processor, who in real-time, checks the purchases against the list, the balance on the family's WIC card and approves / denies purchases. They also apply some crude cost-containment measures in real-time. If you ask $1000 for a gallon of milk, the purchase will go through, but the store will not get anywhere near $1,000.

The approved product list is basically a list of UPC or PLU codes that are divided up into categories and subcategories. Now, because WIC vendors encompass a wide range of stores - from mom and pop grocery stores to giant corporate operations like Walmart, a wide array of products wind up on the list. And the EBT systems typically do not restrict a UPC by stores in anyway. So you'll sometimes see a Great Value product bought at a store that is most decidedly not Walmart. This setup affords flexibility to participants and grocers alike - Walmart happens to be out of whatever-o's, the brand-name cheerios can be purchased without issue.

Payment is faster via the cards, less training required particularly if you've got a good cash-register system. On the whole things are much better with the cards. However, the whole "can you buy this with your WIC card" is not nearly as much at the discretion of the cashier as it used to be.

Which brings us back to the meme - if a particular product is not on that list, then a WIC customer cannot buy it right now with their card, even if they have been issued benefits in that product's category. There are ways for participants, vendors, and manufactures to submit products for consideration, but in general the approval process is not immediate. And we have been working through some problems that stem from the "cashier really cannot let a substitution happen easily" that frankly could have been dealt with a simple note in the old system - "hey let people buy the whole milk even if the voucher says lowfat if that is all you have." The overall system for the WIC cards hasn't been tested like this until the pandemic led to widespread shortages - we're finding areas to improve, but there have been some "why didn't we think of that before?" moments for sure.. You'd run into a little of this if say a hurricane hit a particular area, but even then the issues are pretty localized.

So if you see that WIC sticker on a shelf, that means that product is almost certainly on the APL - WIC participants can buy it. An absence of a sticker does necessarily mean the opposite, but it is somewhat more likely a WIC customer cannot redeem benefits for that item.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2020, 03:36:21 PM by dandarc »

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2020, 03:04:26 PM »
I'm on WIC(SNAP). I'm FIRE.  I signed up for the low income health plan and they gave me WIC.
Almost all foods are WIC eligible.   Hot foods aren't.
I don't think I've ever seen a 'WIC-eligible' sign.   Maybe it's a state-by-state thing.
State by state, and store by store as well - the sign's aren't everywhere.

Paul der Krake

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5717
  • Age: 14
  • Location: UTC-10:00
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2020, 03:23:52 PM »
So here's what I've seen in the couple states I've lived in.

Picture an aisle of jam. There is, say 10 different kinds of jam, ranging from the cheap stuff with a store special at $2 a jar, to the fancy Bonne Maman jar for $7. One of these 10 options will be of the plain variety (not fancy), and have a blue sticker that says "WIC", and let's say it sells for $3.50. The others will not have any sign mentioning WIC or SNAP or anything else.

I was under the impression that WIC recipients could pay for the WIC-stickied jam... somehow, with some sort of special debit card with the funny accounting that dandarc described.
SNAP recipients, on the other hand, could be given much more freedom and virtually buy any of the 10 jars of jam, and it's on them to make the smart purchase because they only have, say $100 of SNAP benefits that month, so spending $7 on fancy jam isn't very smart, but there's nothing stopping them.

Is my understanding completely wrong?

skp

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 235
  • Location: oh
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2020, 03:29:50 PM »
I am not on WIC. In Ohio WIC items are clearly marked on the shelves.  I always looked for them, and tried to buy them because to me they were the "mustachian" thing to buy.  Healthy and practical, the Mustachian choice for food.  At that time it was a practical decision.  But in today's world, I'd hate to take away from people who don't have a choice when I do.

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2020, 03:34:40 PM »
SNAP is basically a cash benefit, so you're right on that point. What I will point out for WIC - the stickers being on the cheap option are sometimes an old-school cost containment measure. 100% they can buy that with their card, but that may not be the only product in that category that they technically could.

Now, the tiny grocer next door may not carry that same $2 peanut butter (jam is not a WIC-eligible product anywhere as far as I know), but their cheapest option might be the $7 one. Because they are also an approved WIC vendor, that $7 jar of peanut butter is on the APL. And a WIC participant could buy that $7 jar at either of the 2 stores.

A WIC customer in the store that sells both might choose the $2 one when they see that sign because it pretty much guarantees they won't have a problem at the register. Also in many states (not all), they are told they are supposed to buy the lowest cost option. So states would still encourage the stickers on the lowest cost option for sure, and depending on rules, possibly on all WIC-approved items.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2020, 03:38:54 PM by dandarc »

24andfrugal

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 92
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2020, 03:59:54 PM »
@dandarc So I want to buy a jar of peanut butter. For simplicity let's assume I have two options:

Store Brand Creamy - $2
Fancypants Creamy - $5

1. Can the WIC recipient buy either type?
2. If they spend +$3 on the Fancy pants, do they have -$3 to spend on something else? Or is that SNAP?
3. How much does the grocery store get for each type? Or does it not work that way?

Your knowledge on this is fascinating. I will say in my limited research I have noticed that the price tags on the shelves do sometimes say WIC.

PMG

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2570
  • Location: USA
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2020, 04:10:03 PM »
We're purposefully planning our shopping trip this evening instead of during the 1st-4th when we expect the stores to be more crowded due to snap and wic benefits, though I believe benefits are staggered in delivery more than they used to be, we live in a high poverty area and there is a definite uptick in shopping during the first of the month.  We want to avoid the crowd, but also not compete for food.  Here, all students receive two meals at school, so with schools closed it really shifts the food needs around and there was a lot of concern in the end of March and beginning of April.  Many school districts have been delivering meals to bus stops for kids, and some of the charitable organizations have begun some extra drop offs for people who aren't mobile, but the demand on those organizations has really increased. 

So, yes, we haven't completely avoided buying WIC labeled items, but we are trying to not take away from those recipients.  Last month we waited until the 9th to shop.  This time we'll be going right ahead of that busy time, hopefully that doesn't mean we're taking food from someone else!

Cranky

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3377
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2020, 04:23:29 PM »
@dandarc So I want to buy a jar of peanut butter. For simplicity let's assume I have two options:

Store Brand Creamy - $2
Fancypants Creamy - $5

1. Can the WIC recipient buy either type?
2. If they spend +$3 on the Fancy pants, do they have -$3 to spend on something else? Or is that SNAP?
3. How much does the grocery store get for each type? Or does it not work that way?

Your knowledge on this is fascinating. I will say in my limited research I have noticed that the price tags on the shelves do sometimes say WIC.

WIC recipients can buy whatever is labeled WIC, which may or may not be the cheapest alternative.

WIC has traditionally been a ďnutritional riskĒ program, and focuses on protein and iron rich foods, so lots of dry beans and peanut butter and milk. The income requirement s are different from SNAP and thereís a strong educational component.

Iíd say - donít clear the shelves of beans and canned juice. Thatís a generally decent thing to do.

penguintroopers

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 294
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2020, 04:34:46 PM »
We do ~ 95% of our grocery shopping at ALDI, which doesnít accept WIC. From what I understand snap and ebt recipients can buy anything as well, so no worries there. Generally thereís only so many varieties of the product you can pick, so if weíre out of the three choices of soy sauce or whatever, no one gets soy sauce.

Iíve been trying to purchase the items we usually buy as much as possible, just at a little higher amount to allow for lower shopping frequency as requested. I figured thatís the best we could personally do to help the supply chain.

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2020, 04:36:35 PM »
@24andfrugal -

1. Yes (assuming both types are approved for purchase of course)

2. No* - most WIC benefits are not cash-value. You buy whatever brand you want, program gets billed whatever it costs.

* - There is a cash-value voucher for fruit and vegetables, but everything else is like "you get 4 gallons of milk, a jar of peanut butter, 2 dozen eggs, 36 ounces cereal, and $11 worth of fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables". Program pays whatever it costs for those items. Very similar to prescription meds that are covered 100% by health insurance - you just go to the pharmacy and pick it up.

3. The grocer gets whatever they ask for subject to certain cost containment measures. They are supposed to charge WIC whatever price they charge everyone else. That is a pretty easy thing to check in a compliance visit, so there isn't too much fraud happening there.

WIC cost containment with the cards - a not to exceed price is applied in real time. So while you might be able to charge $5 for a jar of PB, probably not $10 and certainly not $50. I mean, you can ask for $50, but you'll get knocked down to the NTE price. Before you say but why doesn't everyone just get the NTE price . . .? These are figured usually monthly or even weekly based on that much better redemption data that we have now. And you can trust that the vast majority grocers aren't trying to fuck over a relatively small government program that serves pregnant women and babies - you can imagine if it came out a big chain had programmed their cash register to do that? And there are many other measures in place which vary by state.


I've been building software systems for WIC for a long time - mostly in one state, but recently added 2 others to the list. As a software developer / consultant, you pick up a lot of what might be termed "business knowledge". If you're good at it and stay for long enough anyway.

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2020, 04:42:59 PM »
@dandarc So I want to buy a jar of peanut butter. For simplicity let's assume I have two options:

Store Brand Creamy - $2
Fancypants Creamy - $5

1. Can the WIC recipient buy either type?
2. If they spend +$3 on the Fancy pants, do they have -$3 to spend on something else? Or is that SNAP?
3. How much does the grocery store get for each type? Or does it not work that way?

Your knowledge on this is fascinating. I will say in my limited research I have noticed that the price tags on the shelves do sometimes say WIC.

WIC recipients can buy whatever is labeled WIC, which may or may not be the cheapest alternative.

WIC has traditionally been a ďnutritional riskĒ program, and focuses on protein and iron rich foods, so lots of dry beans and peanut butter and milk. The income requirement s are different from SNAP and thereís a strong educational component.

Iíd say - donít clear the shelves of beans and canned juice. Thatís a generally decent thing to do.
The 3 states I've worked with have an app. A feature of that app is that you can scan a bar-code and know if that item can be purchased with your benefits or not. Not all stores do the labels, and the label is more of a "we'd prefer you buy this one" than a hard and fast rule.

So use the app! Actually important because UPC codes have to be added to the appropriate list or it won't go through at the register.

--I guess should put a disclaimer on this "in the states that have the WIC EBT Card systems I have worked with".

Laura Ingalls

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 149
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #14 on: May 01, 2020, 07:56:05 PM »
I'm on WIC(SNAP). I'm FIRE.  I signed up for the low income health plan and they gave me WIC.
Almost all foods are WIC eligible.   Hot foods aren't.
I don't think I've ever seen a 'WIC-eligible' sign.   Maybe it's a state-by-state thing.

WIC and SNAP are two different things.  Are you retired and either pregnant, lactating, or parenting a child under 5?  WIC requires you to purchase certain items and they lean heavily to things that are healthy.  SNAP requirements are much looser and you could buy soda, candy, and all sorts of random unhealthy items.

Laura Ingalls

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 149
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #15 on: May 02, 2020, 02:30:45 PM »
I forgot to answer the op question.  I see no point in avoiding purchasing WIC items unless they were objects of hoarding.  If someone is hoarding all the dried beans and leaving none for WIC recipients thatís kinda jerky.  If there are plenty of beans I like dried beans Iíll buy them. 

dandarc

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4851
  • Age: 39
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #16 on: May 02, 2020, 02:59:28 PM »
+1 @Laura Ingalls - "don't engage in hoarding" should be the rule of the day for pretty much everything.

Fun one cropped up involving beans earlier this week in one state I work. But that is not a story I can tell at this time.

Dealing with that may be the last thing of import I do - the middle-man handling my contract is late with no estimate for when I'll be paid for the work I did in March, so I'm on an "FU money vacation" as of about 10:00 am yesterday.

Loren Ver

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 978
  • Location: Midwest USA
  • I Retired. Yah!
Re: Mustachians buying WIC-eligible goods - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #17 on: May 02, 2020, 04:25:10 PM »
I've seen the notices and such on facebook starting a few years ago.  I thought about them and then decided to basically ignore them.  I go ahead and buy what I would normally buy and don't save items that are marked WIC or otherwise marked.  That way the store knows that it is an item that is in demand in general. 

With a special note, prior to Covid I have lived in locations that had regular weather related emergencies that sent people into panics.  My family never horded or went on crazy buying sprees.  We also never went on looting sprees.  We also rarely evacuated, which kept us from getting looted (though may not have always been the safest of options).  We generally keep a decently stocked pantry with emergency batteries and such.  We can last if we need too.  No need to buy ALL the THINGS just because something changed.

That is, unless the Dove chocolate bunnies are on greater than 70% off after Easter, then I will BUY THEM all.  You are on your own.