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State Rolls Out Initiative to Improve WIC


The state is launching a new client feedback initiative that will improve understanding of the challenges New Yorkers face enrolling in the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as WIC. Announced as part of Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2023 State of the State address, the New York State Department of Health will partner with Code for America to pilot a live, online chat program that will help the agency gather client feedback to improve the WIC program and enrollment statewide.

“Despite being a critical resource for struggling families, the WIC program isn’t used by nearly as many New Yorkers who are eligible for these food benefits or by many families who are already enrolled in the program,” Governor Kathy Hochul said. “This initiative will help us identify ways to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, simplify the enrollment processes and implement new technology so that struggling families have better access to healthy, nutritious foods.”

Initially, Code for America will help implement a live online chat function to replace the Department of Health’s automated chatbot that appears on the agency’s WIC page, which will connect individuals to a WIC staffer for live interaction. Live interaction is an effective way to guide applicants through the process and enrollees using their benefits, while also providing a source of feedback that can be coupled with client interviews and other qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand challenges with WIC enrollment and usage.

During the second phase of the project, the Department of Health will work with Code for America to implement improvements to the WIC program based on the gathered feedback. The partnership will enable the agency to determine what is preventing eligible families from participating and taking full advantage of the program and then use that information to improve the delivery of WIC services.

The WIC program provides federal funding to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women; and to infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk. The Department of Health was among four agencies selected to participate in the second cohort of Code for America’s Safety Net Innovation Lab, which is aimed at making state-administered public benefits programs more equitable and accessible.

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