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From Paper to Plastic: Understanding the Impact of EBT on WIC Recipient Behavior


  • Hanks, Andrew S.
  • Gunther, Carolyn
  • Lillard, Dean
  • Scharff, Robert L.


Only about 60% of eligible people participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and evidence indicates that these recipients do not claim all of the benefits available to them. Transaction costs and negative stigma associated with participating in the program are likely to discourage eligible people from enrolling, and enrollees from redeeming all of their benefits. As of November 2016, sixteen states have implemented Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) for WIC, potentially reducing the amount of time required for each transaction and making it more difficult to identify beneficiaries. In this manuscript we analyze the impact the transition to WIC EBT has on enrollment, WIC benefits redemption, and non-WIC food expenditures using enrollment data for five states, and expenditure data for 17,714 households enrolled in WIC. We find no evidence that EBT increases the chance that eligible people enroll in the WIC program. We do find evidence that WIC recipients redeem more benefits two to four months after the transition, and there is no evidence that they increase expenditures on non-WIC foods.

Suggested Citation

  • Hanks, Andrew S. & Gunther, Carolyn & Lillard, Dean & Scharff, Robert L., 2016. "From Paper to Plastic: Understanding the Impact of EBT on WIC Recipient Behavior," 2017 Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) Annual Meeting, January 6-8, 2017, Chicago, Illinois 251834, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:assa17:251834
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.251834

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Janet Currie & Ishita Rajani, 2015. "Within-Mother Estimates Of The Effects Of Wic On Birth Outcomes In New York City," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 53(4), pages 1691-1701, October.
    2. Ted Joyce & Diane Gibson & Silvie Colman, 2005. "The changing association between prenatal participation in WIC and birth outcomes in New York City," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(4), pages 661-685.
    3. Janet Currie, 1994. "Welfare and the Well-Being of Children: The Relative Effectiveness of Cash and In-Kind Transfers," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 8, pages 1-44, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Ted Joyce & Andrew Racine & Cristina Yunzal-Butler, 2008. "Reassessing the WIC effect: Evidence from the Pregnancy Nutrition Surveillance System," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2), pages 277-303.
    5. Yonatan Ben-Shalom & Robert A. Moffitt & John Karl Scholz, "undated". "An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Anti-Poverty Programs in the United States," Mathematica Policy Research Reports cfc848ed6ab647bcb38ab47bb, Mathematica Policy Research.
    6. Christina Robinson, 2013. "Younger Siblings Can Be Good for Your Health: An Examination of Spillover Benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)," Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Springer, vol. 34(2), pages 172-184, June.
    7. Brent Kreider & John V. Pepper & Manan Roy, 2016. "Identifying the Effects of WIC on Food Insecurity Among Infants and Children," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 1106-1122, April.
    8. Janet Currie & Firouz Gahvari, 2008. "Transfers in Cash and In-Kind: Theory Meets the Data," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 46(2), pages 333-383, June.
    9. Jackson, Margot I., 2015. "Early childhood WIC participation, cognitive development and academic achievement," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 126(C), pages 145-153.
    10. Marianne P. Bitler & Janet Currie, 2005. "Does WIC work? The effects of WIC on pregnancy and birth outcomes," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(1), pages 73-91.
    11. Lee, Bong Joo & Mackey-Bilaver, Lucy, 2007. "Effects of WIC and Food Stamp Program participation on child outcomes," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 501-517, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Li, Xuemei & Saitone, Tina L. & Sexton, Richard J., 2018. "Electronic Benefit Transfer and the Women, Infants and Children Participation Rate: Evidence from Oklahoma EBT Transition," 2018 Annual Meeting, August 5-7, Washington, D.C. 273850, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.


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