VT WIC Grocer Newsletter September 2014

GrocerNewsletter_2014_09_FINAL

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SNAP Retailer Training Guide available online

Here at Vermont WIC we frequently get calls and emails with questions that apply to thePages from Retailer_Training_Guide-5 SNAP (formerly food stamps) EBT program, known in Vermont as 3squaresVT. Vermont WIC does use the same FIS EBT transaction system as 3squaresVT, but our program rules are very different.

We have located a SNAP Retailer Training Guide that may be of assistance to those of you with questions about SNAP/3squares rules. It is posted on the USDA website, and is in PDF version for easy printing:

http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/Retailer_Training_Guide.pdf

Of course we welcome your questions and concerns about the Vermont WIC program rules and operations. Email us at wic@state.vt.us.

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SNAP Retailers and EBT Equipment

(Vermont WIC has been receiving calls and questions about recent communications received regarding the SNAP program. While the SNAP program is operated by USDA and Vermont’s Department of Children and Families, WIC is operated by the Vermont Department of Health, so our rules, regulations and policies are different. However, Vermont WIC does currently use the SNAP platform for our fruit and veggie EBT card, which means that changes to the SNAP infrastructure do have an impact on Vermont WIC also. A retailer who wants to accept WIC EBT cards for fruits and vegetables must also be able to accept SNAP cards. Therefore, we are reprinting an article of interest. This article is reprinted with permission in its entirety, and without editorial changes, from the August newsletter of the Vermont Retail Grocers Association. We thank the VRGA for allowing us to reprint their article.)

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SNAP Retailers must Pay For Their Own Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Equipmentdebit_Image

Retailers will no longer be offered free EBT equipment, supplies and related services (“EBT equipment and services) to participate in SNAP. Such SNAP-authorized retailers should arrange for lease or purchase of EBT equipment and services as soon as they can in order to ensure continued participation in SNAP. If you are  retailer utilizing free EBT processing equipment from FIS (Previously J.P.Morgan), they will begin charging fees beginning August 1, 2014. As an alternative to continuing with the FIS supplied equipment and paying the new processing fees (which are high by industry standards), you may want to check with your current credit card processor to see if they can process your EBT transactions and if so, how much are the fees.

VRGA currently has a relationship with: Michele Coons, CPP, Member Services Manager, Retail Council of New York State, 258 State Street, Albany, NY 12210. (518) 465-3586 \ (800) 442-3489.

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Minutes of quarterly July 2014 Retail Advisory Council are posted

Click on the “Minutes” link for the 2014-07-10 Grocer Advisory Council, in the right hand notescolumn, to read about the meeting. We introduced our new EBT contractor – Xerox, detailed the implementation timeline, and announced that Rutland will be our pilot District Office.

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Vermont Department of Health receives national accreditation

The Vermont Department of Health is among the first five state health departments to achieve national accreditation by the  awardPublic Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). The national accreditation program works to improve and protect the health of the public by advancing the quality and performance of the nation’s Tribal, state, local and territorial public health departments.

“I am very proud to say that Vermont is one of the first state health departments to achieve this distinction,” said Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. “This means we have demonstrated that Vermonters are served by a high performing public health department and workforce at our central offices and laboratory in Burlington, and through our 12 district offices around the state. We are working for your health every day.”

The national accreditation program, jointly supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sets standards against which the nation’s more than 3,000 governmental public health departments can continuously improve the quality of their services and performance. To become accredited, a health department must undergo a rigorous, multi-faceted peer-reviewed assessment process to ensure it meets or exceeds a set of quality standards and measures. To date, five statewide health departments – Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Washington and Vermont – and 39 local health departments have been accredited.

“As one of the first state health departments established in the country, we have been working to protect and promote the health of Vermonters for more than 125 years, and we are proud to continue this long tradition,” said Dr. Chen. “By continuing to strengthen our leadership and partnerships, services and performance, we can be sure we are meeting the present and future public health needs of our state as effectively as possible.”

The Vermont WIC Program, one of the most wide-reaching programs within VDH, is proud to have contributed to this accreditation effort. We thank all of WIC’s friends in Vermont for ongoing support.

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May 2014 Update

At month’s close, the contracting process with Xerox is almost concluded. As previously noted, as soon as Xerox is on board, their first task is to review the interface design plans from our MIS contractor, Ciber, to connect our MIS system Ceres with the Xerox EBT Host. Xerox also will begin working with our retailers to ready them for connecting to Xerox for online EBT transactions.

Through the dogged persistence of the project leadership and state team, our MIS EBT project is still on time, despite the delays over the change in EBT contractor and the second procurement process. The original projected schedule (set over a year ago) named June 1, 2014 as the beginning of the next phase (Development/Implementation), and we will be holding our first Implementation Meeting with the full project management team the first week in June.

There is actually relatively little “development” involved in the project, as Ceres Computer Technician Examining Server(Vermont’s system name) is an MIS already in operation for several years in three Mountain Plains WIC state agencies. The MIS will be transferred to Vermont and operated on state servers by state IT staff. Xerox is hosting their own EBT system under a service agreement with Vermont. The only development work of note is the adjustments necessary to use Ceres for Xerox online EBT, as the Mountain Plains states currently use either paper vouchers (UT, CO) or offline EBT (WY).

State WIC staff have begun the process of configuring Ceres for our WIC operations, a process we call “Vermontizing” the MIS. This involves reviewing all the pulldown menus, checklists, interview prompts, food packages, printouts and other user interfaces, to make sure they reflect our WIC program.

Information on all our current WIC vendors has already been uploaded, and work has begun to convert existing WIC participant information from our mainframe database to Ceres specs, allowing for upload of each District Office’s caseload prior to rollout.
The Readiness Coordinator Network (RCN), our cadre of representatives from each District Office, continues to meet monthly, communicate project news to local WIC staff, and provide feedback to the project team. RCN members have also taken on projects that are part of our “Clinic Enablement” subproject. They are currently concluding their site surveys of all main and outreach clinics, documenting important information about power sources and internet and wireless access; this information will help the state team plan and implement the necessary network and other modifications necessary for clinic access to Ceres. Procurement orders have been issued for computers, screens, signature pads and other equipment for clinics, also.

The state team wants to thank everyone involved for their persistence and determination to successfully complete tasks and stay on schedule. On to the next phase!

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April 2014 update

Our project leadership and state team continue to work on securing a contract with Xerox to replace JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) as our EBT contractor for the project. Both the External Reviewer for, and the Commissioner of DII have given a strong “Go” vote to our selection of Xerox, and the current wait is simply for the machinery of state contract approval processes.

As soon as Xerox is on board, their first task will be to review the interface design plans from our WIC enterprise MIS contractor, Ciber, to connect the MIS with the Xerox EBT host. When that is complete, efforts will turn checklistto getting our retailers ready to connect to Xerox for the online EBT transactions.

Vermont state WIC staff are finalizing the new Approved Products List (APL) and food packages that will launch with our pilot, still scheduled for a May 2015 start. Selection of the WIC District Office to serve as the pilot is also underway, and should be done by mid-June 2014.

All of the major plans required for implementation — such things as Training, Testing, and so on – are ready to go. We are reaching completion of our Planning and Design phases, therefore, and hope to officially start Development/Implementation phase on June 1, 2014.

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Quarterly Update on WIC EBT activity is posted

Due to a technical problem (a fancy way to describe sending out the wrong PIN # – sorryphonebad about that), the Quarterly meeting of the VT WIC Vendor Advisory Council did not occur as planned today.

An update/report has been posted in lieu of minutes. Click HERE to read the report. If you have any questions or comments for Vermont WIC, feel free to send an email to wic@state.vt.us or to the EBT Program Project Manager at jkeller@keller-fuller.com

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Massachusetts WIC to Pilot Online EBT Summer 2014

Our WIC colleagues in Massachusetts are getting ready to launch a pilot of online WIC EBT this summer, with statewide rollout to begin in the fall. This is a huge help to our efforts in Vermont, as it means that our major chain stores and the major third party processors will already be set up with WIC EBT-ready systems by the time we go to pilot in May 2015.

We’ve surveyed the three major chains, and all three report they intend to be ready to debit_Imageparticipate in Massachusetts for pilot and roll-out. Because  documentation from USDA-FNS has established guidance standardizing key elements of online EBT, including functionality for grocer systems and standards for electronic messages from the grocer to the EBT host, if it works for Massachusetts, we can be fairly sure it’s going to work for Vermont, with little or no modifications.

Vermont WIC will still need to test the chains’ systems “end to end” to make sure VT stores can connect with the VT EBT host contractor, but this kind of testing is less complex than the initial system certification that Massachusetts WIC and grocers will need to conduct.

Our EBT contractor will work closely with independent stores to determine whether their store systems can be integrated for WIC, or in the alternative, provide a stand-beside terminal that will replace existing SNAP/3squares EBT card readers with an integrated SNAP/WIC EBT reader.

WIC in Maine, Connecticut and New York are also in planning stages for WIC EBT, and we are following their progress and working with them as well. A Congressional mandate requires all state WIC programs to move to EBT by 2020.

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JP Morgan Cancels VT WIC EBT Contract

By now you may have heard that JP Morgan Chase, our EBT Contractor, is trying to sell their prepaid card business worldwide. This includes prepaid debit cards and programs such as SNAP and WIC EBT. As a result, Vermont WIC received a notice of contract cancellation from JPMC, effective at the end of this month.  Vermont WIC is quickly pursuing options we have with other potential EBT Contractors, to move as quickly as we can to replace JPM and keep the project rolling.

We’re also continuing work on the tasks we need to accomplish regardless of who the EBT Contractor may be: building our retail vendor electronic database, developing vendor participation standards for EBT, creating our Approved Food List for the migration from home delivery to retail, and other tasks in preparation for EBT.We are fully committed to implementing WIC EBT.

We will let you know as soon as there is news to report about a new EBT Contractor. We appreciate your continued support for WIC and WIC EBT in Vermont.

If you have questions, please contact us at wic@state.vt.us.

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