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Shopping for groceries just became easier for parents enrolled in the York County WIC food assistance program.

The state Department of Health announced Monday, Sept. 9, that instead of distributing checks from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), participants will now receive an EBT card that can be swiped just like a debit or credit card.

The change will be positive for a number of reasons, said Carly Hess, clinic manager and WIC outreach coordinator for the York County Community Progress Council.

"Unfortunately, sometimes there’s a stigma that goes along with checks," she said.

WIC checks used to be distributed to participants once every three months, Hess said, and each check was printed with a list of the approved items that could be purchased with that check, such as milk, peanut butter, fruits, vegetables or cereal.

But some families would receive more than one check if there were multiple children in the family or if the mother also qualified for assistance, and only one check could be used in each transaction at the cash register.

All of these transactions were time consuming for the cashier and the participant, and it drew attention to the fact that the customer was receiving public assistance.

"Now, it’s just a normal form of payment," Hess said, adding that everyone pays with cards nowadays.

The other disadvantage of the checks was that participants could only use each check one time, so if they wanted to get the full benefit to buy every food item they were eligible for, they had to buy it all at once, whether they needed it that day or not.

Once the checks were processed at the register, they couldn't be used again.

For example, if the check listed milk, cereal, eggs, bread and cheese as eligible purchases, but the participant only needed milk and cereal that day or that week, they would either have to buy more than they needed or forfeit the funds to buy eggs, bread and cheese later on.

More: EDITORIAL: Don't change the rules on food stamps

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Lots of WIC participants have limited access to transportation, Hess said, so they often walk to a corner store in their neighborhood. And if they have their young children with them on the trip and have to hold their hand as they cross the street and peruse the shelves, it makes it difficult to bring home more than one bag of groceries at a time.

Now, all of the funds will be deposited into an account, and participants can use the WIC card to buy only what they need, when they need it, without losing their funds or having to deal with multiple transactions.

About 6,000 people in York County receive WIC assistance.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, mothers who have given birth within the past six months and children up to 5 years old are eligible for the program.

The Community Progress Council has already distributed about 400 EBT cards to WIC participants in York County, and as families go to the CPC for their three-month status appointments over the next several weeks, everyone will be phased out of checks and given a card instead, Hess said.

WIC checks will still be accepted in York County through November, and some parts of the state will continue accepting checks through January 2020, she said.

Income requirements for WIC eligibility are higher than for general Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, so families who are above that assistance threshold but struggle to make ends meet may qualify for WIC.

"Most of our families are working families that still might be struggling," Hess said. "They have a solid income coming in but it just might not be enough."

To see if they qualify, York County residents can visit the York County Community Progress Council website at www.yorkcpc.org.

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