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States using electronic EBTs saw an 8 percent increase in the U.S. government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC.

Credit: Public Domain

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine found that electronic benefit cards encourage less stigma and are easier to use than paper vouchers.

The study found that the United States government's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children saw an 8% increase in enrollment in states that switched from paper vouchers to electronic benefit cards. The findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics, a pediatric-specific monthly journal, on March 29 and demonstrate that the switch may increase participation in WIC, Penn Today reported.

WIC is a federal welfare program that aims to ensure the health of low-income women, infants, and children by supplying federal grants to states for resources including supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education, according to Penn Today. 

States previously provided WIC participants with paper vouchers to obtain food under the program, but in 2010 Congress mandated that states shift to electronic benefit transfer cards by 2020. In 2010, only 50% of eligible recipients participated in the program, which Congress aimed to change with the switch, Penn Medicine News reported.

In the states that have already transitioned to electronic benefit transfer cards, participants can use the card like a debit card at store checkout counters, streamlining the process and minimizing stigma.

“The broad takeaway from this study is that making benefit programs more user friendly may be a good way to help these programs reach the children and families who need them,” study lead author Aditi Vasan, a postdoctoral fellow in the National Clinician Scholars Program at Penn Medicine, told Penn Medicine News.

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