TRENTON — Grocery stores, bodegas and other food retailers interested in being vendors in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program can now begin the application process online without being placed on a waiting list, allowing more families access to healthy foods closer to home.

“Having more grocery stores accept WIC vouchers will provide thousands of families with greater access to healthy, nutritious foods,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett. “An authorized retailer can accept WIC vouchers in exchange for food purchased by low-income families enrolled in the WIC program.”

Vouchers are issued quarterly to WIC participants to buy specific nutritious foods. More than 280,000 women, infants and children up to the age of five receive WIC services at more than 100 local clinics throughout the state.

“The new Open Access Policy will make food shopping more convenient by increasing retail options, and reducing shopping time and the need for public transportation,” Bennett said. “Greater neighborhood availability to WIC through corner stores and bodegas, in addition to large chain stores, makes it possible for WIC shoppers to redeem their vouchers closer to home.”

In the past, interested retailers were often placed on a waiting list based on their geographic proximity to existing WIC authorized stores and a ratio of retailers to WIC participants. Effective today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved New Jersey’s new policies, allowing stores to apply to be authorized WIC retailers regardless of geographic proximity to other WIC approved retailers. The Department today began notifying the more than 300 stores on the waiting list that they can now apply. There are currently more than 900 WIC retailers around the state.

WIC-authorized foods include milk, cheese, eggs, whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat tortillas, dry or canned beans, cereal, 100% juice, fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, peas or lentils, and baby food—fruit, vegetables, and meat. In addition to nutritious foods, WIC’s services also include nutrition education, breastfeeding support, access to farmers’ markets, immunization screening and referrals to health and social services.

A vendor applying under this new policy must meet several eligibility criteria including an acceptable business track record, competitive pricing, adequate business hours, sufficient inventory of WIC-authorized foods, a satisfactory sanitary record and a minimum retail space of 1,000 square feet.

To learn more about the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for WIC, please visit http://www.nj.gov/health/fhs/wic/index.shtml.