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Politics & Government

In Reversal, State Says Allegheny County Can Run WIC Program

A kids healthy snacks display at Giant Eagle.
This file photo shows a healthy snacks display for kids at Giant Eagle.

State health officials have reversed a controversial bidding process that awarded a contract to provide the Women, Infants, and Children program in Allegheny County to an agency based in Washington County and removed it from the Allegheny County Health Department, which has run the program locally since 1974.

The state didn’t say why it essentially threw out its application process to determine what local agencies would run the program, but it had faced significant pushback.

Earlier this month, WESA reported the state had faced criticism from both legislators and advocates, who said they were concerned about a sudden transition to new agencies for the low-income families the program serves. Lawmakers from both parties also had criticized the state’s bidding process; several longtime WIC providers were set to lose contracts in other parts of the state as well as in Allegheny County.

State health officials said Tuesday the agency “is committed to providing an equitable, transparent and accurate competitive application process.”

WIC is available to pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers for up to one year postpartum and children under age 5. The federally funded program serves about 13,000 people in Allegheny County.

"The cancellation of these RFAs will have no impact on the continuity of WIC services for the women and children who need them,” said Barry Ciccocioppo, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, in a reference to the application process.

Allegheny County officials said Tuesday they were pleased they could continue to administer the program locally.

“I care deeply about this program — it has been my personal mission to ensure that we deliver the best services to as many women, infants and children as possible,” Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said in a statement.

“Part of that mission includes plans to expand services and improve our reach by opening new WIC offices in places where they are needed most, including hospitals with maternity units," she said. "I thank all of our WIC staff members for their dedication to the program and to improving the lives of all WIC participants.”

State Rep. Austin Davis, a Mon Valley Democrat who was critical of the state’s bidding process for the program, said he was gratified by the state’s decision.