LUMBERTON — The roll-out of a new computer-based WIC system that promises to save both recipients and local agencies time has been smooth so far, according to the county Health Department’s nutrition director.
“It’s going well … it’s more family-centered now,” said Monica McVicker.
Crossroads was launched on Monday in Robeson County, about a month after the first North Carolina counties began to test out the new technology. County roll-outs will continue through October as the state leads a group of states including Alabama, West Virginia and Virginia in adopting the new program.
Established in North Carolina in 1974, the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program provides healthy food, health care referrals and nutrition education to pregnant, post-partum and breastfeeding low-income women and to children up to 5 years old.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, switching from the old paper-based WIC system to the Windows-based Crossroads system should mean quicker appointments, certification, food pickup and re-enrollment, which is required once each year.
“We’re learning a new system, they’re learning a new system, so it’s difficult to gauge how long it has taken a participant to come through the entire process,” McVicker said.
McVicker said the Crossroads system is also more conducive to families. While each individual in a family had their own files, appointments and food allotments under the old system, Crossroads groups each person with the mother or caregiver of the family.
“If there’s five people in the family, all of them will have the same appointment date and time,” she said.
Robeson County has about 5,200 participants, McVicker said, noting participation is down in Robeson and surrounding counties. McVicker said that few births and fewer migrant workers are probably the reasons for fewer beneficiaries. From July 2012 to June 2013, $4,076,796.44 in WIC food vouchers were redeemed.
North Carolina received about $200 million in WIC grants for the 2013-14 fiscal year, one of the largest allocations in the country, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, initial certification for the paper-based system can take up to four hours for a family of three. A nutrition education visit can take another hour and reapplying each year could mean another three hours.
Kristi Clifford, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson, said families will have to answer fewer questions with Crossroads. The department also said fewer errors are likely to be made with the new system.
The Health Department has been handing out Crossroads fliers and pamphlets to participants since March to prepare them for the switch, particularly some changes in what participants should bring to their initial appointments.
WIC recipients still have to bring an ID, proof of residency and proof of income. If the participant would like to give the name of another person authorized to pick up their food, they must also be able to give the person’s birth date.