Legislators presented ceremonial bill & pen to National Supermarket Association celebrating changes to onerous DOH policy
State Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, joined Rudy Fuertes, President of the National Supermarket Association, and members of the NSA for their general assembly meeting to announce the adoption of new law to ensure access to prescription baby formula across the state.
Last year the lawmakers released an alarming report analyzing the ways in which the State Department of Health’s restrictive 2014 policy change, which only allowed WIC recipients to use checks to buy prescription formula in stores that have pharmacies, impacted recipients. The investigation concluded the 2014 policy created formula deserts across the city, severely cutting off access to mothers on WIC in multiple zip codes across the city.
Klein and Crespo introduced legislation to reverse the DOH changes, which was signed by the governor in December of 2016.
“Following last year’s report it was clear that swift action was needed to fix the broken policy that was in place. WIC participants should be able to easily find prescription formula in their neighborhoods. I’m proud that we were able to find a common sense solution to this problem that will ensure that those who need prescription formula won’t have to travel all over the city to find it,” said Senator Klein.
“Last year, under the leadership of Senator Klein, the legislature was able to respond and solve the bureaucratic nightmare created for thousands of families and children by faulty regulations that restricted access to nutrition services under the WIC program. I am proud to have been part of the solution and look forward to our continued work to improve the health of our families while supporting our small business community’s efforts to serve all our residents,” stated Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Chair of the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.
“This law re-establishes access to WIC participants and levels the playing field for independent supermarkets and bodegas by once again allowing most WIC-approved vendors to sell specialty formula,” said Rudy Fuertes, President, National Supermarket Association. “The NSA has long advocated for this change and we want to thank Senator Klein, Assembly Member Crespo and Congress Member Espaillat for their leadership on this issue and for coming out to NSA headquarters to present our group with the pen certificate. Independent supermarkets and bodegas are largely immigrant run businesses and at a time when the national climate for immigrants is uncertain, we commend Senator Klein, Assembly Member Crespo and Congress Member Espaillat for championing and protecting our businesses and our community.”
Senator Klein and Assemblyman Crespo passed legislation to expand access to the WIC program across the State. The rules enacted by the Department of Health severely limited the ability for stores, like supermarkets and smaller grocery shops, to participate in the program. These stores, which also carry other healthy food items included in WIC packages like fresh fruits, vegetables, dried and canned beans, baby food, whole wheat bread, infant cereal, milk and cheese are vital for women and children health.
It was signed into law this month.
Before the DOH changed their policy 556 stores in the Bronx had accepted WIC participants’ checks, but now only 39 can because of the pharmacy requirement. That’s a 93.1% drop in stores. Of the 39 stores only seven carry a full produce section where WIC recipients can find other nutritional products for their families.
Across the city, the change created a major drop in selection for WIC recipients looking for prescription formula like Enfamil, Ensure or Similac.
Prior to the change Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island collectively had 1,349 stores where WIC recipients could use checks to purchase prescription formula. These boroughs now collectively have 149 locations.
Certain zip codes have been hit harder than others. In The Bronx after the 2014 change, 16 zip codes had no stores where WIC recipients could fill their entire food package, including prescription formula.
This year, Senator Marisol Alcantara and Assemblyman Crespo introduced legislation to help stores deal with burdensome fees that they are sometimes hit with when there is a difference between the value of a WIC check and the cost of the product sold.
This legislation would not hold the vendor accountable for that difference, or the bank’s bounced or returned check fee, while providing greater transparency within the WIC program.