Maternity Full Court Press Team Responds to WIC Crisis

Allegheny County Health Department Director Debra Bogen, MD spoke at the Maternity Full Court Press meeting on PA WIC.

On June 28, the Maternity Full Court Press Team met to discuss the current crisis with the crucial Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program in Pennsylvania. In 2020, the disruptive request for applications process to renew WIC agency funding caused the loss of WIC agencies across the state, and enrollment has been decreasing steadily in recent years. If the current trajectory is followed, the Allegheny County Health Department will no longer be the local WIC provider after 9/30/22, unless additional action is taken. Similar effects will be felt across the state. The Full Court Press Team explored these issues and potential solutions for Pennsylvania WIC.

Maternity Full Court Press and Women's Health Activist Movement Global Board Chair Pat Siger gave the welcome and an update on the Full Court Press strategy to certify and reimburse doulas and perinatal community health workers. She shared that the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) convened a statewide Doula & Perinatal CHW Advisory Group with over 100 members. Within the Advisory Group, a Doula Alliance led by five doulas are gaining consensus on definitions, core competencies, and standards to create a doula certification program in Pennsylvania and to reimburse certify doulas. Siger then commented on the urgency of the situation related to WIC.

JHF President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD introduced Ann Torregrossa, JD, Executive Director of the PA Health Funders Collaborative, who gave a call to action on PA WIC. Torregrossa emphasized the importance of WIC and advocated for changes to address the barriers to clients accessing the program, such as allowing online purchasing and telehealth. Torregrossa called for the Full Court Press Team to spread information about increased WIC benefits and advocate for federal and state improvements to the program.

Debra Bogen, MD, Director of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) then discussed the impact of the request for applications on WIC agencies and Allegheny County. She shared that ACHD is currently appealing to remain a WIC agency, as the removal would be detrimental to both staffing and service for WIC in the county. She called for greater transparency about the application review process. She also echoed Ann Torregrossa's calls for breaking down barriers to WIC access. To that end, Dr. Bogen shared that ACHD is moving ahead with their proposed plans to partner and collocate WIC services in healthcare facilities in Allegheny County as a key strategy to improve access.

Senator Judith Schwank, 11th Legislative District, Chairwoman of the Women's Health Caucus joined the conversation on legislative involvement in PA WIC action. To improve communication and collaboration in the future, Senator Schwank shared, legislation is being introduced to create a state WIC advisory council comprised of diverse stakeholders. Senator Schwank asked the Full Court Press Team to send letters to state administration in support of PA WIC.

Carrie Dinsmore, President of the Pennsylvania WIC Association, offered additional comments. She discussed the declining WIC participation rate across the state, citing problems with outdated EBT cards, program and access barriers, outdated practices, and transportation barriers. Dinsmore warned that decreased enrollment will continue if WIC agencies are changed as currently determined in the request for applications.

Darlena Birch, MBA, RDN, Senior Public Health Nutritionist, National WIC Association discussed opportunities to increase awareness of WIC cash value benefits. Birch shared about the increase in benefits for fresh fruits and vegetables, and she shared messaging toolkits and campaigns to increase awareness about the extra benefit availability. As an example, the National WIC Association shared an action alert with members to generate advocacy, promoting funding and expansion of WIC nationally. Further discussion on national approaches to using WIC awareness communication toolkits will follow through the Maternity Full Court Press.

The Full Court Press Team further discussed immediate actions to take to stop the request for applications, increase awareness of expanded WIC benefits, and support enrollment in PA WIC. Pat Siger then gave the closing remarks, which summarized a great deal of support for PA WIC and energy around advocacy.

Read more about recent changes to PA WIC in the Philadelphia Inquirer. This article quotes Ann Torregrossa: Pa. awarding Philadelphia WIC program to Temple University, taking it from agency that ran it for 42 years

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