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The eWIC Deadline is Approaching: Is Your Grocery Store Ready?

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Are you still accepting WIC checks? Are you using a stand-beside WIC terminal in your store?  Independent grocers have known for almost 10 years of the federal mandate that all states must implement electronic benefit transfer (EBT) for WIC program benefits by October 1st, 2020 and many states are scrambling to make that deadline. In fact, over 50 million Americans are served by two states (California & Illinois) that are just in the process of rolling out the program now.

What is eWIC?

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five. WIC serves about half of all infants born in the United States. Historically these funds have been distributed by checks which can be used to purchase nutritional items from authorized grocers however the process was prone to error, was difficult to manage and added to the stigma of WIC participants. Now, with eWIC these benefits can be processed just like a debit card, integrated into the grocers point of sale (POS).

Benefit to Your Grocery Store

There is no need to hold off on upgrading your POS to an eWIC capable system. Any upgrade costs will be eclipsed by the improvements to your store. Independent grocers will realize many benefits by implementing an integrated eWIC solution including:

  • Faster throughput at the checkout
  • Potential for increased sales
  • Faster payments compared to WIC check cashing
  • Easier cashier training
  • Less errors and potential for financial loss from incorrect food purchases and unsigned or expired checks
  • Simple management of approved product list
  • Seamless inventory management

Integrated eWIC will make you wonder how you ever managed the manual process before.

Benefit to Your Customer

If your store is not using a POS solution capable of accepting eWIC cards, your customers will begin shopping elsewhere. Here are just a few of the ways eWIC benefits your customers:

  • eWIC cards are processed like a debit card for increased privacy
  • Benefits for each household are all on one card, rather than multiple checks
  • Benefits are issued for up to three months at a time for convenience
  • Quicker transactions
  • There is no need to separate items or process multiple checks in a transaction which tended to draw more attention to the WIC purchase
  • Buying what they need now as there is no requirement to use all of their benefits in one transaction

With eWIC, participants can shop for what they need, when they need it, just like any other shopper.

Integrated vs. Stand-Beside Terminal

Less sophisticated POS systems have not completed the stringent development and certification process required to accept eWIC. This has left many independent grocers with no choice but to use a non-integrated stand-beside terminal from their state. These terminals come with new challenges including many of the problems of the old manual WIC process including:

  • Additional hardware taking up space at the checkout
  • Extra hardware expense
  • Error prone requirement to split transactions and duplicate scanning
  • Separate transactions resulting in a slower checkout process and more cashier training

If you are not using an eWIC capable system or your current point of sale provider is charging exorbitant fees to upgrade, it might be time to look for a new solution.

Selecting an Integrated eWIC Provider

So you want to accept eWIC? Now what? Your first step in determining if you are able to accept eWIC is to contact your POS support provider. They should be experts on eWIC, and with their help you can determine:

  • If the point of sale software you are using supports eWIC in your state and if not, when they are scheduled to go through the development and certification process. If the answer to these questions is “no” or “never” you should begin looking for a new grocery specific POS solution today.
  • If your Merchant Service Provider is capable of accepting eWIC. An eWIC EBT transaction is authorized with the state in much the same way that a credit card is authorized with a bank. If your merchant service provider does not accept eWIC, you will need to work with your POS support provider to find a new payment processor for your store.
  • If your current payment terminal supports eWIC transactions. In most cases, eWIC transactions will require the latest secure payment terminals. You may be required to upgrade your payment terminals to accept eWIC.

The eWIC deadline is fast approaching. There is no need to worry, but the time to act is now. If your state is just rolling out the new eWIC technology or if you are stuck using a non-integrated solution, contact Auto-Star today or visit us at the NGA Show in San Diego, February 23 – 26, 2020 to learn more about our purpose-built solutions for grocers including integrated eWIC.

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