The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced plans to make sweeping changes to the state's Office of Public Health for its oversight of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at the beginning of 2014, after an audit released Nov. 25 showed WIC had poor oversight, was overcharged by vendors and didn't follow up with vendors whose products were expired and conditions were unsanitary.
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's office found the state was overcharged more than $600,000, and that the Office of Public Health neglected to verify grocery prices charged through the program. In one example, auditors found that one store had charged the program $21.99 for infant formula, though the program is supposed to cap charges at $14.89. (The New Orleans Health Department estimates more than 66,000 people will visit WIC clinics in New Orleans in 2013.)
Among its changes in 2014: DHH will create an operating manual with clear protocol for WIC employees to use when working with vendors, and a WIC Vendor Monitoring Database will track all WIC-approved vendors. The DHH notes that the USDA must approve the manual and database before they can be used.
The audit arrives as a four-year federal stimulus boost to SNAP benefits ended Nov. 1, which cut services by 7 percent to nearly 1 million people in Louisiana. Meanwhile, Louisiana participants in SNAP increased 20 percent in the same time frame. In a conference call with reporters Nov. 26, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling called the nationwide cuts "harsh and unacceptable at any time, but particularly so as we enter the Thanksgiving and holiday season." — Alex Woodward