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WASHINGTON - The House Education and the Workforce Committee today voted to reauthorize the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for the next four years with reforms long sought by the Food Marketing Institute to benefit both consumers in the program and the retailers that serve them.
"These reforms will advance the goals of the WIC problem in critical ways," said FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds. "For the women and children who depend on this program, the legislation will promote the use of technology that speeds the delivery of WIC benefits while lowering the costs. The measure includes provisions to curb the counterfeiting and illegal sale of infant formula."
"For the industry," he added, "we are especially pleased with the provision requiring that retailers be notified immediately of any program violations. Often retailers don't find out until after they're fined or their licenses are pulled. Immediate notification will enable retailers to fix any WIC problems quickly, which is really what we all want."
The reforms require that all states that receive federal funding for WIC electronic benefit transfer systems observe national technical specifications and standards -- a measure that would help speed the adoption of lower-cost electronic delivery of WIC benefits.
As part of the reforms, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will develop a national UPC database for WIC products, reducing the potential for human error by enabling retailers to download the national product codes directly into their computer systems.
States will be required to maintain a list of authorized wholesalers, manufacturers, and retailers that sell infant formula. This provision would then require retailers to purchase from that list.
"These reforms recognize that the integrity of the WIC program rests on collaboration between the government and industry," Hammonds said. "By working together, we can deliver the best benefits to the most mothers and children whose health and well-being depend on this program."
The reforms are among the recommendations in a 2002 report by the FMI WIC Task Force, composed of 22 food retail industry executives that help oversee the program at the state and federal levels. The task force is chaired by Liz Chace-Marino, a former WIC program administrator and current director of government and corporate affairs at the Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. based in Quincy, Mass.
The reauthorization measure, the Child Nutrition Improvement & Integrity Act (H.R. 3873), covers WIC and other child nutrition programs. The full House is expected to vote on the bill after the mid-March recess, and then the legislation goes to the Senate.