Ruiz, Pou Bills to Modernize WIC, Streamline Enrollment into Subsidized Health Insurance Advance

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Legislation Aims to Expand Access to Formula, Mitigate Impact of Future Shortages

Trenton – In an effort to better support New Jersey residents, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Nellie Pou, which would aim to modernize the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and help uninsured residents receive information on eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance. 

“New Jersey has a strong safety net for residents in need but, unfortunately, many public programs are underutilized,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “By updating the WIC program, we can allow for online grocery shopping and splitting checks up over multiple purchases. These changes, if federally approved, will make WIC easier to use and allow mothers to take full advantage of the support. Similarly, the Easy Enroll Program will jump-start the health insurance application process, allowing residents to simply check a box and get information on their eligibility for Medicaid or other low-cost options.”

The first bill, S-539, would direct the Department of Health to request federal approval to allow WIC participants to purchase food through online vendors, use WIC funds to cover home delivery costs and allow flexibility when purchasing baby formula.

“It is critical our public assistance programs continue to evolve to meet the needs of our residents and take full advantage of new technologies. Our safety net only works if people know it is there and are able to use it,” Senator Ruiz added.

The bill would also request approval to allow WIC recipients to utilize their benefits over multiple transactions. Currently, recipients must expend the entire value of their WIC check or voucher in a single transaction.

“Especially given the staggering unemployment rates plaguing our state, it is likely the number of uninsured New Jerseyans has grown over the last year,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Through this legislation, the Department of Banking and Insurance will be able to identify individuals and families who may be eligible for subsidized health insurance and guide them through the application process. This will go a long way in connecting as many eligible individuals as possible to much-needed coverage. Additionally, changes to WIC will ease the burden on new mothers struggling to navigate the program during an especially trying time, given the baby formula shortage.”

The second bill, S-1646, would require the Department of Banking and Insurance to establish the New Jersey Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program, which would use tax return and unemployment insurance data to identify individuals who sign up for information on health insurance and are interested in obtaining minimum essential coverage. The bill would allow the state to run eligibility determinations for free or low-cost health insurance and sign up interested individuals for FamilyCare plans.

Under the bill, a tax filer or unemployment applicant would be able to opt-in to the program by checking a box, indicating they would like DOBI to check if they are eligible. The program is voluntary and data will only be used if individuals check the box. Those who opt-in, and are eligible would be automatically enrolled in Medicaid. Others would be referred to the Exchange to determine if they qualify for subsidies. 

Both bills were released from committee by votes of 12-0.