Georgia (Rhonda Cook and Shannon McCaffrey-Atlanta Journal-Constitution) – A federal program that provides food for low-income women and their children is so badly mismanaged in Georgia that state taxpayers could be slammed with a $20 million penalty.
Systemic problems in the Women, Infants and Children nutritional program, commonly know as WIC, have allowed stores to charge the government outrageous prices for basic commodities such as milk, according to a review of state and federal records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The situation is so dire that federal officials want Georgia to stop approving new stores as WIC vendors until the state gets its act together.
“There have been huge problems with WIC,” concedes Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, which oversees the program.
Fitzgerald, who took control of the program about 18 months ago, told the AJC the department is making progress — hiring 20 new investigators to tackle fraud. As a result, she said, almost 100 stores have been shut down and ordered to pay around $17 million in restitution.
But she said it will take more time to turn the troubled $297 million program around. It’s a daunting task.