CGA Testifies on WIC Moratorium

California’s moratorium on issuing new WIC licenses is “one of the biggest issues facing the grocery industry,” CGA Senior Vice President Keri Askew-Bailey told the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Monday.

The Committee met in an Oversight Hearing to hear testimony as to the scope of the moratorium, including why it hasn’t been lifted.

The moratorium was issued in 2011. Representatives from the Department of Public Health said the moratorium will be lifted in the summer of 2014.

Askew-Bailey told committee members the grocery industry appreciates the progress made by the state Department of Public Health, but an interim solution is needed. “We cannot wait until Summer of 2014 to see relief,” Askew-Bailey said. “We need exception criteria expanded for store categories that weren’t part of the problem to begin with.”

She said the moratorium is having a direct impact on grocery retailers, including one company that has indicated it will not explore expansion opportunities in California because they cater to lower income households. Another grocery retailer will likely close its doors because they failed to meet the WIC exemption criteria – it moved into a former grocery store location that had been closed for more than six months.

Askew-Bailey told committee members that while it is generally understood that the problems associated with overcharging were limited to a small minority of vendors and not in traditional grocery stores, the moratorium is imposed on all vendor types.

She explained that some grocery stores in low income areas depend on WIC shoppers to remain viable. “It isn’t necessarily the WIC coupons that are needed, but all the other goods customers purchase when they shop,” she said. “But if they can’t use their WIC vouchers, they won’t shop at a store and develop that customer loyalty. So store viability is impacted.”

Others providing testimony included Kathleen Billingsly and Christine Nelson from the Department of Public Health, and Laurie True of California WIC Association.