Children’s Groups Promote Plan to Link Medi-Cal, WIC Food Assistance

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
A new bill would allow Medi-Cal and WIC food assistance programs to exchange information and enroll more eligible low-income families. Photo Credit: Pixabay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Legislature came back from summer break this week, and children’s advocacy groups want them to take up a bill to link eligibility for the Medi-Cal and WIC food-assistance programs to create a kind of one-stop shop enrollment process. 

About 87,000 low-income children who receive WIC benefits in the Golden State qualify for Medi-Cal but are not signed up. Karen Farley, executive director of the California WIC Association, said the eligibility requirements for both programs are the same, so there’s no reason people should spend so many hours filling out extra forms.

“It can be like a full-time job trying to apply to all the programs that you might be eligible for – and especially if you are a parent with a couple kids and you don’t have a car, which a lot of low-income families don’t,” Farley said.

Assembly Bill 526 would get the ball rolling on express-lane eligibility in the enrollment process. The federal government would fund most of the system interoperability changes at a 90/10 split. The state has already agreed to cover any extra children who enroll.

Data show families who receive WIC assistance have fewer issues with low birthweight babies, preterm births, anemia and childhood obesity. Kristen Golden-Testa, California health director for The Children’s Partnership, said kids who get health insurance from the start also can avoid a lifetime of chronic disease.

“As soon as the child gets into health care, the better,” Golden-Testa said, “because then we can get them the care that they need and identify any problems – should they arise – early, that could help them in the lifelong pursuit of health.”

Advocates for the bill say they’re optimistic it will become law because Gov. Gavin Newsom has long called for “smart” government programs that would improve outcomes for young children.