Editorial: Audit uncovers troubling issues with WIC program

A requested audit has found problems in Louisiana with the federal program that provides food and other services for low-income

pregnant women, mothers who have recently given birth and their young children.

The Special Nutrition Program for

Women, Infants and Children, commonly referred to as WIC, serves 145,000

women and children

throughout Louisiana. It costs about $126 million annually to

provide food, health screening, nutrition information and other

services to its clients.

The Office of Public Health within the state Department of Health and Hospitals oversees the program and requested the audit

by the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

“We requested this audit to guide

us in improving the WIC program for those who rely on its critical

services, while protecting

taxpayer dollars and ensuring that any bad vendors are no longer

allowed to participate in the program,” said DHH Secretary

Kathy Klibert.

The audit uncovered several issues.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said some stores allowed WIC clients to trade their food vouchers for cash. How that cash

was spent is anybody’s guess.

He said some stores were charging more than the agreed price. In one instance, the audit found that a store hiked the price

nearly 50 percent more than the agreed-on price of $14.89 for infant formula. Purpera said expired food was also found on

some food shelves.

An Office of Public Health spokesman said that new computer software should help personnel do a better job of tracking prices

and inventory. The spokesman also said that OPH food inspectors will begin visiting stores that sell food to WIC clients.

State health officials should be applauded for requesting the audit, taking the findings to heart and putting in place measures

to correct the issues uncovered.

But it will be meaningless unless the Office of Public Health cracks down on clients and retailers that are participating

in the vouchers-for-cash deals and the merchants that are overcharging clients for vital food products.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.