Share Data with Confidence

SIS Senior Policy Analyst Khaliyl Lane takes a deep look at data-sharing possibilities between state-run WIC, TANF, Medicaid, and SNAP programs in his latest report

Over the past four years, California has seen a 25% decrease in WIC enrollment, despite having one of the highest poverty rates in the country. In fact, most states have seen a decrease in WIC enrollment during this period.[1] WIC is proven to improve health outcomes for infants, young children, and parents.[2] So why is enrollment so low? Can data-sharing between agencies help improve those numbers?

One way to address this enrollment gap is to use targeted outreach to residents who are likely eligible to receive WIC support based on data from other programs. States are tasked with enrolling all eligible residents in WIC programs and protecting their privacy as they collect the personal information required for eligibility and administration. WIC’s privacy requirements are particularly stringent and challenging. Our latest data-sharing report illuminates new approaches for administrators who want to leverage linkages between programs.

In Maximizing Linkages, Senior Policy Analyst Khaliyl Lane took a closer look at the available pathways to share data between programs while adhering to privacy guidelines. He found that not only do TANF, WIC, Medicaid, and SNAP privacy guidelines provide opportunities to leverage confidential health information in support of other public benefit programs, some mandate the programs to proactively pursue collaboration.

Even better, there are several successes that exemplify paths forward. Lane highlights how Massachusetts and Oregon programs have innovated ways to share data between entities to increase WIC outreach efforts, while preserving user privacy.

The State of Massachusetts WIC agency, for example, now sends a postcard to all MassHealth members who meet likely criteria for eligibility. The card contains specific information about what WIC offers and mentions that “most MassHealth members who are pregnant or have children under age five are eligible for WIC benefits and services.” This simple, direct recruitment of likely WIC participants into the program is possible after the state initiated a data sharing agreement that allows MassHealth, the state Medicaid agency, to share contact information with the Massachusetts WIC Nutrition Program.

The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services sent this postcard to all MassHealth members who meet likely criterial for program eligibility.

In Oregon, the agency that governs WIC services entered into a data-sharing agreement with the Oregon Head Start Association (OHSA), a nonprofit that provides services related to the Head Start preschool education program. After this agreement, WIC users were notified that attending an approved Head Start nutrition education class met the requirements for the WIC program adherence. WIC recipients are provided an incentive to sign a release of information while receiving helpful information about the benefits of the Head Start program.

Oregon proactively took steps to ensure WIC data could be shared between programs, improving outcomes of WIC participants.

What Oregon did to ensure they could share WIC data and use it efficiently:

+ Produced a Memorandum of Understanding establishing that WIC recipients must have a signed release to share their information when they enroll in the program.

+ Offered a signed release when WIC users initially enroll in the program.

+ Created a data sharing agreement that includes blueprint ways to seek consent at the application and certification stage of enrollment.[3],[4]

+ Included a list of organizations with which the state has executed or intends to execute a written agreement in the State Plan. The written agreement must also meet certain requirements as defined in regulations.[5]

+ Produced a specific written notice from the Chief State Health Officer that data sharing is allowed.

WIC Helps Mothers Give Birth to Healthier Infants and Reduces Infant Mortality. Data & image used with permission from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.[6]

These steps empowered and inspired staff and administrators to participate in data sharing activities; the clarity and documentation helps reduce the caution staff might have due to inaccurate or ambiguous understandings of how data sharing fits within stated privacy laws.[7] In the end, the effort to create an explicit data sharing agreement results in greater connection for people to the services they need.

WIC is proven to reduce infant mortality, improve maternal wellbeing, and improve children’s educational prospects. The benefits of data sharing to increase enrollment, and of questioning assumptions about barriers, are clear. Balancing the tension between recruitment and privacy can seem daunting, but it’s essential to community health and well-being. Read more success stories of how state WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF programs have harnessed data sharing in the full report.


[1] https://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/wic-program

[2] https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/wic-works-addressing-the-nutrition-and-health-needs-of-low-income-families

[3] Working together to better serve our shared families: WIC & Head Start Collaboration, OHA (2017). Available at: https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/HEALTHYPEOPLEFAMILIES/WIC/Documents/collaborate/wic-collaborate-head-start.docx

[4] WIC/ Head Start Mutual Agreement: County Health Department WIC, OHA (N/A). Available at: https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/HEALTHYPEOPLEFAMILIES/WIC/Documents/collaborate/head-start-mou-1.doc

[5] 7 CFR §246.26(h)(3)(i)(A) – (E)

[6] https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/infographics-wic-works

[7] California’s Department of Health and Human Services initiated a data sharing agreement as well. You can read former Secretary former CHHS Secretary Mike Wilkening talking about the benefits of their data sharing agreement here.

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