I am excited to be sending you the first in a series of bi-weekly emails about WIC EBT and related topics of interest. The purpose of these emails is to facilitate two way communications with the e-WIC Workgroup; to educate, ask questions and stimulate discussion. Our first topic of discussion is the WIC EBT Transaction. We describe the sequence and essential elements of the WIC EBT transaction at the retailer point of sale. The WIC EBT transaction gives us a starting point for our discussion, but it also touches upon many other topics of interest; those that are being considered for future emails are highlighted in the article below. The information in these emails and any follow up discussion will be shared with the entire retailer community so the feedback you share with us will be critical in helping us to address the topics most important to you and all of our retail partners.
Ongoing, I will be a dedicated resource for any questions or feedback you would like to share. Also, any suggestions for upcoming email topics can be sent to me. I can be reached through several modes of communication; feel free to send general questions or comments to the askwicebt email account listed below or you can contact me directly.
A WIC EBT transaction refers to the sequence of events that occur when a WIC cardholder makes a purchase with their WIC EBT card to redeem food benefits at an authorized vendor. The WIC EBT transaction may start when the cardholder does an initial balance inquiry before shopping. With the balance inquiry in-hand, the cardholder selects their items for purchase. Once at the point-of-sale (POS), the cardholder swipes their WIC EBT card to initiate the purchase transaction. After the card is swiped, the cardholder enters their PIN which allows the system to validate the card, cardholder, and retailer. The WIC EBT card also allows POS to obtain the benefit balance associated with the WIC EBT card. For each item selected, a Universal Product Code (UPC) or Price Look Up (PLU) code is scanned against the list of WIC food items identified in the State's Approved Product List (APL). Each item is also validated against the cardholder's prescription balance and the benefit expiration date. The POS will identify:
If the POS supports mixed basket, the cardholder may choose to pay for the non-WIC items with another form of tender. The store price is captured for each food item, as well as any valid coupons, loyalty cards, or other promotions. Once all items are scanned, the system then approves/denies the transaction. It is at the time of approval that the Not to Exceed (NTE) price is applied to all items being purchased. If the transaction is approved, the card balance is reduced by the quantity of each item being purchased; a receipt showing the details of the transaction and the updated account balance is then printed. If the transaction is denied, the system will not allow for the completion of the transaction. If the cardholder or retailer believes an error occurred within the transaction, either may contact the appropriate State-provided help line.
WIC EBT has benefit controls to ensure proper purchase transaction procedures and security. These benefit controls eliminate opportunities for cashier error, enhance WIC transaction efficiency, improve the purchase experience, and provide greater flexibility to participants in maximizing their purchasing power.
WIC EBT automates the following benefit controls:
Participant signature on Food Instrument
Card reader performs cardholder PIN validation
WIC Allowable Food Item
Cashier manually inspects Allowable Foods List
POS verifies item UPC/PLU against APL
Available Benefit Balance
Cashier manually inspects Food Instrument
POS verifies item UPC/PLU against the prescription balance
Benefit Expiration Date
Cashier manually inspects Food Instrument
POS verifies benefit effective and expiration dates
WIC EBT facilitates a better transaction experience for retailers and WIC participants. It is our hope that, through WIC EBT, our participants will shop more often, redeem more benefits, and become loyal customers at our authorized retail stores.
This week's topic of interest explores WIC State Agency and retailer responsibilities for Approved Product List (APL) Management. A State's APL is one of the basic building blocks of authorized food item management for WIC EBT. The APL identifies all of the items allowed by a specific State's WIC Program. The State Agency utilizes one comprehensive APL database that is electronically accessible by all authorized WIC vendors.
After exploring the functionality of the APL and the responsibilities of the State Agency and retailers you may have further questions; please feel free to contact me. We will continue, through the WIC EBT Retailer Workgroup, to address the topics most important to you and all of our retail partners. As a reminder, the next WIC EBT Retailer Workgroup Session is on Tuesday, March 22, 2011; an agenda has been forwarded to you. Parking passes are available to anyone who would be interested in participating in the meetings at the Department of Health. Happy Saint Patrick's Day!
In a WIC EBT environment, each authorized WIC food item is identified by a Food Category, Food Sub-Category and unique product identifier; either a Universal Product Code (UPC) or Price Lookup (PLU) code. A State's Approved Product List (APL) is an electronic file which identifies all WIC food items allowed by the WIC State Agency for purchase with WIC benefits. On a daily basis, a State's APL is generated from the UPCs and PLUs for all currently allowable foods and is made available to retailer point-of-sale (POS) systems. During the WIC purchase transaction, each food item is scanned and compared to the current APL to determine if the item is WIC allowable; since this is done at the UPC level it also validates the item package size.
The National Food Category/Sub-Category Table provides the framework for creating the APL. Food items are grouped by food categories and sub-categories within a table of USDA-defined categories/subcategories. For example, the food "whole grain bread" is coded as Food Category "16" (Bread/Whole Grains) and Food Sub-Category "002" (Bread-100% Whole Grain).
Using the Whole Grain Bread example, the corresponding APL record is:
D4000002134400000011110001528Whole Grain Bread 24 Oz. 16Breads/Whole Grains 002Bread - 100% Whole Grain oz 0010002400oz 00068701 200903012030123112
Virginia has already begun the process of identifying UPCs and PLUs for allowable foods, as we solicit information from manufacturers and distributors about potential new products, we are also collecting the item UPC/PLU. Also, in preparation for EBT, the Virginia WIC Program will issue a Request for Information (RFI) to manufacturers and distributors in order to collect UPCs for our currently allowable food items. Virginia WIC EBT staff will conduct site visits as needed to ensure that all UPCs/PLUs for food items offered by retailers are collected. Retailers are not responsible for ongoing maintenance of the State's list of UPCs/PLUs and the current APL will be made available to retailer POS systems on a daily basis; however, retailers will be expected to apply the most current APL to their systems when retrieved, within 48 hours of the "APL file create date and time", which is recorded within the APL file.
The Virginia WIC Program is responsible for maintenance of food items listed within APL; retailers need only ensure that their POS system utilizes the current APL. However, should any issues arise in accessing the APL, 24 hour retailer support will be available from the EBT Processor. Questions about the items authorized by the APL will be directed to the Virginia WIC Program.
I am pleased to inform you that VDH has issued Intent to Award to ACS State and Local Services, Inc. for WIC EBT Processing Services. We are very excited to be moving forward with WIC EBT in Virginia and we hope you will celebrate this milestone with us!
If you are interested in additional details, publically available information regarding the procurement, including the RFP and pricing information, is posted on the eVA website, http://www.eva.virginia.gov/, keyword e-WIC or EBT.
Once the contract with ACS is fully executed, we will hold a kick-off meeting with our retail partners to introduce you to ACS and the project team, review the specific project tasks and the support that will be provided to you, and to discuss deliverables, including the retailer interface specification, and the associated due dates.
As you know, EBT is only one part of a larger change to WIC technology in Virginia; we are also a partner in the Crossroads Consortium to develop a new Management Information System (MIS) for Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. As we prepare to embark on the WIC EBT project, I believe this is a great opportunity to discuss the relationship between Crossroads and EBT. In Virginia, Crossroads and EBT are often discussed in tandem; to understand one system, you must understand how the two interact. Our goal in this article is to clarify the relationship between WIC EBT and Crossroads and identify the roles of each system with respect to the other.
As always if you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to email me directly or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions you would like addressed at the next Virginia e-WIC Workgroup meeting, please let me know.
The Virginia WIC Program is currently involved in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) initiative to develop a WIC State Agency Model (SAM) information system. The Crossroads SAM system will support all aspects of the WIC Program including Participant Eligibility, Food Benefit Delivery and Appointment Scheduling as well as Retailer, Operations and Financial Management.
In Virginia, the Crossroads SAM system will be implemented as an EBT benefit delivery system. EBT is a food benefit management system based on an electronic food prescription issued by the Crossroads system. For each EBT account, the Crossroads system issues an electronic prescription which specifies the particular food items, quantities of food items, and the time period within which the food items must be purchased. Once a food prescription is issued by Crossroads, the EBT system is responsible for the management of the benefit account, including redemption debiting, payment processing, and reconciliation reporting. In addition to benefit prescriptions, Crossroads also communicates the State's Approved Product List (APL) and associated Not to Exceed (NTE) prices to the WIC EBT system. For each purchase transaction, this information is used by the EBT system to compare purchase items to the participant benefit balance, approved product UPCs/PLUs, and the maximum reimbursement. Conversely, at the end of each day, the WIC EBT system provides Crossroads with a redemption file to validate benefit transactions against corresponding benefit issuance.
Crossroads and EBT will be implemented concurrently in Virginia, in other words, the systems will test, pilot, and rollout simultaneously. User Acceptance Testing (UAT) of the Crossroads-to-EBT interface is scheduled to begin February 2012. Pilot is scheduled for September 2012 and, following pilot, a staggered statewide rollout for each Consortium State will begin November 2012 and will continue through April 2013. With the concurrent implementation of Crossroads and EBT, retailers will benefit from improved transaction controls, faster in-lane service, and daily payment settlement. In return, our participants will shop more often, redeem more benefits, and become loyal customers at our authorized retail stores.
USDA FNS WIC State Agency Model Information: http://www.fns.usda.gov/apd/Library/WIC_SAM.htm
The Commonwealth recognizes the importance of working closely with the WIC authorized retailer community in an atmosphere of partnership to make WIC EBT a reality. As you are aware, outreach to retailers has already begun and will continue through statewide rollout. There are different approaches for retailers to enable their stores to accept WIC EBT. Retailers may choose to either to integrate WIC EBT into existing cash registers/point-of-sale systems or to install stand-beside equipment. While our goal is full retailer integration, to have every authorized retailer integrate WIC into their existing system or upgrade to systems that support WIC EBT, we will work with the each retailer individually to ensure they are enabled to accept WIC EBT. This week we will introduce several options to assist in making authorized retailers WIC EBT ready.
Retailer enablement for WIC EBT simply means having the capability at your point-of-sale to accept a WIC EBT transaction, and retailers have several options when deciding how to enable their stores to accept WIC EBT. Integrating WIC into your point-of-sale and your normal business processes is always the preferred solution, it allows you to manage inventory, payment, and settlement for WIC items within the same system that manages transactions for cash and other tenders and it also provides a more streamlined purchase experience for the customer. The alternative to an integrated point-of-sale is a stand-beside WIC device. This device is capable of supporting a WIC transaction; it will validate the items against the benefit balance and the State's APL, accept an EBT card as payment, and submit WIC transactions for settlement. However, a stand-beside device is maintained separately from your overall store management system; to determine total inventory, payment, and settlement for all transactions, you will need to reconcile the WIC stand-beside with your store management system. Below we have provided an introduction to three point-of-sale solutions, two integrated and one stand-beside; each retailer will need to evaluate these options and consider which one might best fit their stores. In some cases a retailer may choose to take advantage of multiple options, such as installing stand-beside equipment as an interim step to integration. This article is only meant to serve as an introduction, as we move forward with our EBT Processor, we will address these options in more detail and with retailers individually so that you can make a fully informed decision.
Retailers may choose to upgrade their current Point-of-Sale (POS) system hardware and/or software. This option lends itself to retailers that currently use advanced integrated Electronic Cash Register (ECR) or proprietary systems. An integrated ECR system, upgraded to accept WIC EBT transactions, allows the retailer to maintain their current POS and business processes while integrating WIC redemptions with other payment types and inventory accounting processes. Software upgrades purchased from a POS vendor may have been tested and certified by USDA in other EBT States which limits the level of testing required for certification in Virginia. An upgrade to an integrated ECR:
Retailers may choose to replace their current POS system with an integrated WIC EBT certified ECR system. Retailers may choose this option if there is no WIC EBT upgrade available to their existing system or if they are currently planning to refresh their POS systems. System replacement with an integrated ECR has all of the advantages of a system upgrade except no existing investment is being leveraged; however, Virginia will assist retailers in identifying systems certified in other online WIC EBT States so that retailers can take advantage of prior investments in WIC EBT. A full system replacement with an integrated ECR:
Retailers may choose the stand-beside WIC EBT solution offered by the State's EBT Processor. The stand-beside solution consists of a POS terminal and item scanner that operates independently of retailers' ECR systems. The stand-beside unit communicates directly to the EBT system and usually connects through a dedicated phone line. This solution is not an integrated solution, the stand-beside POS is entirely separate from the store's overall inventory, payment, and settlement system for other tender types; however, this solution can be an acceptable solution for some retailers. The stand-beside POS is a State-provided solution, so retailers that are not ready to make a large investment in upgrades or replacements in order to accept WIC EBT may choose the stand-beside option. Also, this solution can be used to enable a retailer to accept WIC EBT for the duration of their system upgrade or replacement effort. The State will provide a minimum* number of stand-beside devices to those retailers requesting support and, in addition, complete onsite installation and training will be available. For retailers currently operating a State-provided SNAP stand-beside device, WIC will replace these devices with a similar stand-beside that will support both SNAP and WIC transactions. A stand-beside POS:
Supports both SNAP and WIC transactions
*Reference: Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 Full Text http://ag.senate.gov/site/ComLeg/s3307.pdf
The Secretary shall establish minimum lane coverage guidelines for vendor equipment and systems used to support electronic benefit transfers. State policies regarding minimum lane coverage have not yet been established.
We at VDH are pleased to have received great questions from our e-WIC Workgroup representatives in response to these informational articles. It is encouraging for us to know that in preparation for WIC EBT you all are thinking ahead and identifying potential situations that may occur during the project. We have been collecting your individual questions and as information becomes available we will respond to the e-WIC Workgroup as a whole. This will give us the opportunity to reach retailers that may have similar questions or to even start a conversation amongst retailers about upcoming events, knowledge sharing is essential to this project. The bi-weekly articles, alongside the monthly e-WIC Workgroup meetings, are great ways to get important information disseminated to you and allow you to correspond directly with us in real time. Below you will find the first group of questions that we've received from your retailer peers. As time continues, and more questions are received, we will continue to send answers to your questions; in the meantime please keep them coming.
Natasha W. Miller
WIC EBT FAQ's
Q: If the Virginia WIC EBT processing system operated by Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the State's EBT Processor, goes down, will State-supported help lines be available?
A: The primary point of contact for 24/7 support will be the Virginia EBT Processor, ACS, with the WIC Program's Vendor Liaisons acting as a secondary point of contact in the event of an escalation of downtime. Staff email addresses are typically cited in all written communications sent out to stores.
Q: Coupons and tax on coupons:Will the Virginia WIC Program follow SNAP Guidelines?
A: Rules for the processing of discounts and coupons are defined in Section 4.7.5 of the WIC EBT Operating Rules (please see attached Draft for Publication). In addition, Section 4.8 includes information regarding Taxes, Fees and Surcharges. Section 4.8, part b, explains that sales tax may apply to manufacturers' coupons in some State or local jurisdictions. Where sales tax is applied to manufacturers' coupons, the price of the authorized WIC food items bought with a manufacturers' coupon shall be reduced by the value of the coupon minus the sales tax that is applied to the coupon amount.
Please note that the WIC EBT Operating Rules cited above are Federal guidelines and that these guidelines are in final draft form. No Virginia specific policy decisions have been made regarding coupons and promotions.
Q: Will transactions be able to take place at a self-checkout lane?
A: Self check-out lanes are addressed in Section 4.7.6 of the WIC EBT Operating Rules which state that self-checkout is permitted at the option of the WIC State Agency and that State Agencies may choose to test and certify self-checkout separately from other point-of-sale systems. Virginia plans to permit retailers to support self-checkout should they choose; however, self-checkout systems will be certified separately to verify transaction controls and accurate processing.
Q: Will the NTE be sent in the transaction, or will retailers get any notification of NTE amounts?
A: When any transaction is processed, the maximum price for each UPC is compared to the store price entered in the transaction. The settled or approved price is never to be above the maximum price established by the Commonwealth. If the store price is lower than the maximum price, then the retailer is approved for the store price entered. If the maximum price is paid, the receipt printed by the POS terminal denotes the item with an identifying notation. The price of the WIC benefits redeemed will also be reflected in the WIC total amount found on the customer receipt. If the maximum price has been paid, this total will be different than the total price of the items requested, which will be found below the WIC total amount. The maximum price for the retailer is maintained on the Commonwealth's WIC EBT system, which is the Electronic Payment Processing and Information Control system, or EPPIC. It is not downloaded to the local POS.
This installment of the WIC EBT Retailer Workgroup email addresses Balance Inquiries. In an EBT environment, WIC participants will be able to make on-demand balance inquiries. A balance inquiry is a non-financial transaction that allows a WIC participant to obtain their current WIC Food Prescription balance. This will allow the participant to know what they will be allowed to purchase before they get to the checkout lane. There are multiple options for obtaining a balance inquiry; a prescription balance can be obtained in the clinic, online, by phone or while shopping at the WIC authorized stores.
I would like to know from any of our retailers that have experience with WIC EBT, which balance inquiry option have you found to be the most helpful at the POS? Have you found it most useful when a participant knows their balance prior to entering the store? Are there any problems with the checkout lane balance inquiry? Do you find that participants keep their receipt (with ending balance) from the previous WIC purchase? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Natasha W. Miller
When in a WIC Clinic, WIC Participants can view their current Food Prescription balance, as well as other pertinent account information such as EBT card history, and current household account information.
Cardholders and proxies are able to view general program information and materials at the main entry screen to the Cardholder portal.
WIC participants can obtain their current Food Prescription balance by calling the Automated Response Unit (ARU) toll-free number. This number will be located on the participant's EBT card and training materials provided.
WIC participants will have the option of checking their Food Prescription balance at WIC participating retailer's store. These authorized store locations must provide a balance inquiry on demand; either in the checkout lane or a separate Card Acceptor Device (CAD). (Operating Rules - 4.7.1 General Lane Operations) It will be up to the individual retailers on how they will implement this requirement. Depending on the store's implementation, a participant may have various options at their disposal for checking their balance while shopping. A participant can request balance inquiry from the cashier in a checkout lane, but this could extend the participant's and other customer's time in the store. Some retailers may also equip their service counters with a Point of Sale (POS) device so a balance inquiry can be requested without going through a checkout lane. Another option is for retailers to install Balance Inquiry POS devices throughout their store that will allow participants to obtain balance inquiries at a self service kiosk. Installing a device at the service counter and placing self service kiosks will help prevent a decrease in checkout lane productivity and improve overall customer experience.
Integrated retailers have the option of performing a balance inquiry for purchase transaction prior to performing a purchase which provides the Electronic Cash Register (ECR) with the cardholders benefit record prior to items being scanned.
The WIC participant obtains a printed receipt with real-time balance information that can be used as they shop. The Balance Inquiry receipt received by a participant will have at a minimum level of information.
The receipt will contain at a minimum the following information (Operating Rules - 5.5.1 Balance Inquiry receipt data):
See the Balance Inquiry example below. This example illustrates the typical flow for a balance inquiry and the possible appearance a balance inquiry receipt generated by a stand beside WIC POS device.
The balance inquiry process flow and receipt appearance may vary from this example for integrated retailers. Integrated retailers will have their own version of the Balance Inquiry receipt, but will have to meet the minimum requirements called out in the WIC EBT Operating Rules (5.5.1 - Balance Inquiry receipt data).
WIC EBT Operating Rules available at http://www.vahealth.org/DCN/General%20Info/EBT/links.htm
EXAMPLE - Balance Inquiry (Stand Beside)
This example illustrates how a balance inquiry could appear on a stand beside device.
Balance Inquiry Flow
EXAMPLE - Balance Inquiry Receipt
WIC EBT Retailer Email #6 - Balance Inquiry