NEW YORK – Governor Kathy Hochul has announced a new feedback initiative that aims to improve New Yorkers’ challenges with enrolling in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC.
As part of the 2013 State Department email announcement, the New York State Department of Health will partner with Code for America to pilot a live online chat program that will help drive consumer feedback by gathering information to improve WIC programs and enrollment statewide.
“Despite critical assistance to struggling families, the WIC program is not used by many New Yorkers who qualify for such food benefits or by many families already enrolled in the program,” said Governor Hochul. “This initiative will help us identify ways to eliminate red tape, streamline enrollment processes, and enable new technologies so struggling families have better access to healthy, nutritious food.”
Initially, Code for America will help implement a live online chat feature to replace the Department of Health’s automated chat bot that appears on the agency’s WIC website, which will connect with a WIC staff member for live interaction. Live interaction is an effective way to guide applicants through the process and members in using their benefits, providing an invaluable source of feedback that can be combined with customer interviews and other qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand challenges with WIC enrollment and use.
In the second phase of the project, the Department of Health will work with Code for America to improve the WIC program based on feedback collected. The partnership will allow the agency to determine what is preventing families that meet the criteria from participating and getting the most out of the program and then use the information to improve the delivery of WIC services.
The WIC program provides federal funds to states for food supplements, health care needs, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, lactating, and postpartum women who are not breastfeeding; and infants and children up to 5 years of age who are at risk of malnutrition. The Department of Health was one of four agencies selected to participate in the second cohort of the Code for America’s Net Innovation Lab, which aims to make public benefit management programs more equitable and accessible.
About half of the families who participate in the WIC eligibility program and who are enrolled in the program do not consistently use their food benefits. Data from the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service this year found that about 706,000 New Yorkers were eligible for WIC in 2020, but only 363,000 participated in the program.
Food insecurity is consistently associated with health outcomes in children, including poorer general health status, acute and chronic health problems, and limited access to health care. Participation in WIC is associated with healthier diets, better birth weights, lower risk of infant mortality, better infant feeding practices, better nutritional diets, better access to primary and preventive health care, and more cognitive development in infants. health outcomes.
The initiative with Code for America is part of Governor Hochul’s plans to make government work better for New Yorkers by changing the way they access services and benefits. Significant technological improvements are being made to reduce bureaucratic barriers and improve access; reduce call waiting times; use electronic signature technology; the launch of ‘one ID’ to improve the way residents interact with a range of public institutions online; and modernize state management websites and apps to improve user experience.