TEXAS RETAILERS HOPE SURVEY LIGHTS WAY TO EBT-BASED WIC

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas retailers are hoping a government-funded survey set to be released this month will recommend a way to move Women, Infants and Children benefits to an electronic benefits transfer program.The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will determine the expense and feasibility of converting Texas' current paper-based WIC system to EBT, state and federal officials

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas retailers are hoping a government-funded survey set to be released this month will recommend a way to move Women, Infants and Children benefits to an electronic benefits transfer program.

The survey, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will determine the expense and feasibility of converting Texas' current paper-based WIC system to EBT, state and federal officials said.

Officials said converting the very complex WIC program to electronic distribution and integrating it with Texas' current statewide EBT program would be particularly difficult. Texas' EBT handles food stamp and Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits.

The study will analyze the various options for incorporating WIC, whether it involves implementing a parallel EBT system for WIC, amending Texas' current system or some other means.

Texas has one of the most widespread uses of EBT in the nation, though some observers consider it controversial for not following EBT standards and guidelines set by the federal government.

State retailers, however, said EBT has greatly improved their food stamp processing and would like to gain similar benefits from an electronic WIC system.

"Where [EBT] would really help is that we could get immediate credit for the WIC voucher," said Jay Lawrence, manager of operations for Lawrence Bros. Management Services, Sweetwater, Texas.

"Right now we have to fill out the WIC voucher, send them all in at the end of the month and then wait six weeks for our money," he said.