From Paper to Plastic: Understanding the Impact of eWIC on WIC Recipient Behavior

Andrew S. Hanks, Carolyn Gunther, Dean Lillard, Robert L. Scharff

NBER Working Paper No. 25131
Issued in October 2018
NBER Program(s):Health Economics

Evidence shows that the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is underutilized. WIC enrolls only sixty percent of eligible persons. Participants claim only a fraction of available benefits. Researchers suggest that people underutilize WIC because of the time needed to enroll in and use WIC and because participants may believe that, if others notice them participating in WIC, community members will stigmatize them. Recently enacted policies may reduce both time costs and potential for stigma associated with WIC. Congress mandated that, by 2020, all states disburse WIC benefits through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (eWIC) system. The eWIC potentially reduces the time required for each transaction and makes it more difficult to identify beneficiaries. We analyze data on grocery expenditures of 11,887 WIC-participating households in one state over the period it implemented eWIC. We find that, after beneficiaries began redeeming WIC benefits through eWIC, spending on non-WIC eligible foods did not change but redemptions of WIC benefits increased.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25131

Published: Andrew S. Hanks & Carolyn Gunther & Dean Lillard & Robert L. Scharff, 2018. "From paper to plastic: Understanding the impact of eWIC on WIC recipient behavior," Food Policy, .

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