JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is closing 13 food centers across the state that serve low-income mothers and children as it prepares to start a new program early next year that will allow participants to use electronic cards to access supplies at grocery stores and pharmacies instead.
In the meantime, participants will still have access to benefits at centers elsewhere in the state. There are at least 80 food centers in Mississippi, the Commercial Dispatch reported.
Mississippi is one of the only states in the country that uses a warehouse distribution system and paper vouchers to distribute benefits to participants in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
The state announced intentions to switch to electronic benefits transfer cards late last year, and that process will begin in January 2021 at the earliest. The eWIC card system will be easier to use and allow participants to access food at convenient locations, like stores, instead of having to pick up at warehouses, officials said.
Twelve centers are scheduled to close Sept. 30. They are in Rosedale, Ruleville, Okolona, Ackerman, Hollandale, Leland, Raymond, DeKalb, Raleigh, Eupora, Columbus and Southaven. Participants will have until Aug. 28 to pick up food there. A center in New Albany will close Dec. 31, and participants will have until Nov. 25 for final pick-ups.
While the 13 centers are closed, the Department of Health is working to ensure participants have an available food center within 30 miles of each WIC clinic, officials said in a news release last week.
“We know this will be a challenge for some of our participants and we are doing everything that we can to supply them nutritious foods the best way that we can during this transition,” said Jameshyia Ballard, WIC vendor director.
The 13 food centers that are closing in the coming months were either not being heavily used, or the warehouse’s landlords' chose not to extend the lease, officials said.
WIC provides “nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support, and referrals to health care” to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, infants and children up to age 5 who are considered to be at nutritional risk, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
WIC foods include “infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish.”