Transcription of Episode 6: You have a right to WIC Assistance.

Faith – What is WIC and can it make a difference
in your life? Welcome to SBH Bronx Health Talk produced by SBH
Health System and broadcast from the beautiful studios at
St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. I’m Faith Daniel.
The special supplemental nutrition program for women infants and
children aka WIC provides supplemental foods, healthcare
referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant
breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding women and to infants and
children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. For
many immigrants according to the National WIC
Association a public charge is an element of immigration law that
allows federal authorities to deny legal status to individuals who
are determined to be primarily dependent on the government and
WIC has not been considered in Immigration determination
including public charge review. With me today is Jose Tuma
director of WIC at SBH and Gil Bernardo assistant director of WIC,

Gil and Jose -Good morning thank you for having us.

Faith- so please tell me a little bit more about WIC and how many
people you guys support.

Gil – Well is a supplemental food program that assists families
mothers and children. Women from the minute that they find out
they’re pregnant they can qualify for WIC up to six
months after giving birth. children from the minute they’re born up
to the age of five providing they still meet the requirements that
are required by the state which are proof of address, proof of ID,
nutritional risk and household income so providing that they meet
those requirements, the child can continue to receive benefits up
to the age of five.

Faith – and do they have to call prior to coming in or can they
walk in?

Gil -We do both. You can call us up to schedule an appointment if
you’re in the area you can just walk in and we also take walk-ins.

Faith- So then what happens when you go to the WIC office
walk me through the process if I’m a pregnant mom and I come in
what’s it like what benefits what I get what resources are available
to me?

Gil- Okay, so you would come in we would go over the
requirements make sure that everything is met. once that’s taken
care of you would sit down with a nutritionist to go
over some of the things that you’re experiencing how far along
are you in your pregnancy, any problems, anything
that you’re experiencing that we can help you with and pretty
much they’ll design a package based on your needs for the
pregnancy so depending if you’re lactose intolerant
or you can’t eat certain food, they’re able and they have the
ability to tweak the package a little bit so that it meets your

Faith- So it meets people where they’re at and pretty much is just
working on that health equity part of life just like meeting people
where they are and working towards making them healthier, a
healthier them.

Gil- Healthy birth, healthy child that’s our Goal, the healthier they
are the less time they have to spend in the hospital

Faith- Very true, so tell me about this E-WIC card benefit that has
just happened in the Bronx. We’re the first to do it, woot, woot! so
please tell me about it how is it making our patients lives easier
and what is it about.

Gil- Well it’s an electronic shopping cart is similar to a snap benefit
card right you’re able to go shopping anywhere within the state
and one of the benefits of it is in the past if you lost your checks or
they got damaged we weren’t able or the state wouldn’t allow us to replace those checks.
Argument’s sake now, let’s say you lose your card you can put a
stop on a card right you can come to one of our three location
we can issue you and activate you a new card and you wouldn’t
lose one benefit. In the past we couldn’t replace checks, now you lose the card we will
issue you a new card, everything’s done in real time you can go
out shopping the same day. Also in the past when you went to a
store you would have to cash all the items that were on a check,
now we give you a shopping list with all the items that you’re
entitled to and you can pick and choose which ones you want
today, come back tomorrow. It’s not necessarily you would have to
do a whole shopping. You can go let’s say you just need a gallon
of milk, go, just get the milk and get what you need for today so it
makes shopping a lot simpler a lot easier also a lot quicker

Jose- and also one of the things we’re very proud of is that the
new e-WIC card allows for mothers and families to shop with
discretion. We think that that’s very important. You know one of the
participants shared at a recent press release that we had that  
now she doesn’t have to see other people rolling their eyes
while she was cashing her check over at the supermarket so it’s a
nice easier way for parents and mothers to get what they need for
their family.

Faith- So I guess parents autonomy it gives them the ability to say
you know I want this I want that and not feel that stigma or have it
just be known to everyone in the line that they are like on WIC.

Jose- you know in fact it empowers them.

Faith- and that’s the goal, so there is still a lot of anxiety still
around what’s considered a public charge and how accessing
programs like WIC will negatively impact someone’s immigration
status or even get them deported and as a Bronx native myself
and a child of immigrants I understand the fears that that come
with that so could you please expand on that a little bit more like
is WIC actually considered a public charge?

Jose- WIC is not considered a public charge in fact the National
WIC Association provides a document called the FAQ where over
at Albany individuals had to answer a question with respect to
public charge and they found that WIC was not included as a
public charge. In fact, the things included as a public charge would
be snap, Medicaid or housing assistance would negatively impact
someone. Public charge is a passion of our program. We’re
moving to educate our participants with respect to the concept of
public charge because nationally statistically the WIC program is
losing a lot of participants based on the concept of public charge.
We’ve had for our own participants say hey we’re not going back
because my attorney told me that I would get in trouble if I
received the benefits from your program so it’s we have this drive
to educate our participants so we have this document in all of our
sites in English and Spanish and in Chinese so that we could
educate our participants talking on location. We have
three of them. We have one over at 2021 Grand Concourse
Avenue between 178th and 179th. We have one at 4487 third
Avenue on the first floor and we have our third location is at 260
East 188 off the corner of Valentine Avenue and 188th. So
whenever you know whenever you need to make an appointment
you can give us a call at 718-960-9510 or 718-960-6257 or

Faith- So if I’m an undocumented immigrant and I’m pregnant and
I go into any one of your three sites can I access WIC safely?

Gil- Absolutely absolutely like we said WIC is not a public
charge program, so having fear of going to the program shouldn’t
be there. You just need to meet the requirements  that the state has laid out and
once that’s taken care of we should be able to serve you without a

Faith – so does WIC collect information about my immigration or
citizenship status?

Gil- No it doesn’t, we just use the information that you provide us
just to update the file the chart taking your information down you
where you live your name, date of birth, things of that nature but at
no point of time do we keep any of that information which is
verified and then we return all your documents back to you so
no point in time should you fear that you went to the
program and had to leave information behind or documentation

Jose- Faith, just to let you know that our programs make
sure that everyone who walks into our offices, that our biggest
goal is to provide the service making sure that you leave with the
benefits for your family. In essence we’re not FBI agents.
We don’t have a desire to stop anyone from receiving the
services that we offer.  In fact, we’re looking for ways to make sure
that families are getting the services that we provide.

Faith- and so what are some common myths about WIC and
public assistance that you guys could clear for our audience right

Gil- Well one of them is if you work you don’t qualify for WIC
which is a myth. It all varies by the amount of people in your
household to the amount of income in the household so you can
work and still qualify for WIC so that’s the biggest one right there
and once we’re past that one everything else is pretty smooth the
biggest one in the community is I work I don’t qualify just give us a
call you never know you might just qualify it’s only gonna take a
minute to find out and if you do find out and you do qualify the
benefits, we are there for you.

Faith- yeah sure and it also just aids in what you were saying
about empowering our patients to utilize this resource because it’s
there for them it’s there for you you have a right to this regardless
of your immigration status.

Jose- Absolutely absolutely and you know our WIC program you
know it’s not only just issuing benefits for families while we’re
making sure that our participants are going to their doctors they’re
PCPs we’re making sure that they’re getting their immunizations
we’re making sure that they’re seeing their dentists we’re making
sure and we’re promoting breastfeeding to the fullest especially
with St. Barnabas. Moving towards becoming a
baby-friendly hospital. We want to make sure that the
hospital’s mission and our mission are aligned so that we can
provide a more well-rounded service to the community.

Faith- and I know you guys just had that mommy and baby yoga
recently and I saw you doing your thing.

Jose- that was amazing that was truly amazing and
the thing is that you know we were able to collaborate with the
Wellness Action Center over at Tremont. They were able to
provide a yoga instructor and the mommies just loved it, they
loved it.  She tailored her yoga class for the
pregnant mommies and to see the babies you
know trying to emulate the positions that their mommies were
doing it was just really awesome and it allowed for the staff to
connect with the moms.

Faith- yeah kind of humanizing the staff something not to be
afraid we’re here to work with you even do the yoga poses with
you yeah like that’s awesome. So are there any resources for individuals to check out if
they wanted to learn more about WIC or to go over their rights or
anything where could they check?

Gil- They can check the New York State Department of Health
under that they can go into WIC and it would have all the forms,
the requirements, anything that they would need regarding WIC
or whatever information, they would be able to gather it there and
again if they don’t find it there we’re just a phone call away.

Faith – Nice, awesome and then you can also check out the
National WIC Association website for more information is there
any comments or suggestions you’d like to make?

Gil- we’re here to serve the community this is our job so we need
them to come to us so that we can provide the benefits of each
and every one of them deserves.

Jose- and if they don’t come to us trust me we’re gonna come to
you because we know we’re working very diligently – we have this
new outreach initiative where we’re gonna reach out to people at
churches we’re gonna reach out to shelters we’re gonna reach out
to everyone because this is something that everyone you know if
you’re eligible that everyone could benefit from it so this is really
our mission.

Faith- and our goal is to just make the Bronx and we’re healthier
place and to empower our residents to be able to have everything
they need to be healthy and like happy family yeah absolutely for
sure but they you guys so much thank you for joining us.

Gil and Jose- thank you for having us