WIC RFA Frequently Asked Questions
April 1, 2021
Why competitively submit applications for WIC local agency work?
The United States Department of Agriculture notified PA WIC in 2014 that the waiver previously issued supporting sole source procurement, or award based upon a determination that only select entities were able to deliver the services required, was no longer valid. Infrastructure constraints had been eliminated with upgrades to 4G and Broadband requiring resumption of the competitive bid process for local agency work.
Why was WIC local agency work sole sourced in the first place?
Although initially through competitive application processes from 1974 through 1980, PA WIC local agency work has been sole sourced since 1980. This was largely due to the extensive infrastructure. In 2013, the Department invested in infrastructure upgrades allowing MIS access via 4G and Broadband thus making clinic setup much more "plug and play" and largely eliminating infrastructure restrictions.
What are the benefits of a competitive application process?
The competitive application process in the Commonwealth requires that state agencies provide a fair process for all applicants. The competitive application process for WIC Local Agencies included a Request for Information (RFI) in conjunction with a Request for Applications (RFA). Through the RFI and RFA processes, the Department provided equitable access to information and equal opportunity for funding for all applicants. Ultimately, the best applications submitted were selected as awardees as evidenced by their score in comparison to other applications. This is very different than sole sourcing which is interpreted as grants being awarded to the only entities capable of delivering the services required. Based on the number and variety of applications received, it is clear that many different types of entities are capable of delivering WIC local agency work.
How many committee members evaluated this request for application (RFA)?
Evaluation committees are comprised of 3 or 5 members, which is consistent with the recommendation by the Department of General Services (DGS) for the, similar, Commonwealth competitive procurement process. Due to the anticipated number of applications needing scored, it was recommended to limit the committee to 3 members to minimize conflicts and assure a consistent committee makeup throughout the entire length of the process. Having consistent committee composition is much more important than the number of members and increasing the number of members increases the potential risk of conflicts and needing to introduce alternate evaluators. Therefore, the committee was comprised of three primary evaluators and two alternate evaluators.
Were any applicants deemed unresponsive?
Overall, some applicants failed to provide sufficiently detailed responses in all areas. Although the applicants voiced what deliverables they planned to tackle, they did not detail how that would be accomplished. Applicants appeared to assume others knew who they were and what they did—these assumptions cannot be made when submitting a competitive application where you are scored based on the information you provide in response to the published application. To be objective and unbiased, committee members are required to score based on the information presented in the application package.
Did applicants have sufficient opportunity to ask questions or get clarifications?
The Department conducted a year-long Request for Information (RFI) period that entailed the following:
- PA Bulletin notice of RFI kickoff, which was also posted on PAeMarketPlace
- Public meetings (11) conducted statewide in May 2019 to collect questions and feedback on RFA requirements and work statement
- Feedback incorporated and transition to RFA in December 2019
In January 2020, the RFI formally transitioned to the RFA.
- Feedback was collected during public meetings (11) conducted statewide in May 2020 regarding State Plan development including RFA requirements and work statement
- RFA was published to PAeMarketPlace on August 17, 2020
- RFA-related questions were accepted through September 7, 2020
- Although scheduled for two hours, a Pre-Application Conference to review questions and answers held on September 21, 2020 continued for over three hours until all questions were addressed.
- Responses provided during the Pre-Application Conference, as well as responses to questions raised during the Pre-Application Conference, were published on PAeMarketPlace on September 24, 2020.
- A total of six addendums were also published on PAeMarketPlace from August 26, 2020 to September 24, 2020 to address questions raised, including 179 questions-and-answers in the final addendum.
How much time did applicants have to prepare their RFA applications?
Applicants were given seven weeks to prepare their responses to the RFA addressing their insight into the problem statement; work statement; clinic location and justification; staffing plan; draft transition plan; budget and budget narrative; and applicant's relative availability of health services. This was three weeks longer than the standard four-week preparation time.
Why were applicants required to submit separate applications for each county they wanted?
Applicants were required to develop applications specific to the socio-economic and demographic considerations in the specific service area. To maintain a consistent and level playing field, a separate application was required for each county an applicant wanted to seek an award.
How were applications scored?
A scoring committee was established, and each committee member was responsible for independently reviewing and scoring applications before meeting with the committee as a whole, discussing and having an opportunity to adjust their final score. Scoring of applications was based on a 1,000-point scale and considered the knowledge and skill necessary to perform grant deliverables; a final averaged score of 70% or higher was required to be considered responsive and eligible for county award.
Was there a good response to the RFA?
The Department received a total of 96 letters of interest (LOI) from 27 entities seeking to be WIC local agency providers. Of these LOI, the Department received a total of 81 applications from 24 of the 27 entities originally expressing interest in the RFA. As far as competitive application processes go, this is considered a very good response.
Why did the Department perform a review of applicant financial solvency?
Upon receipt of applications, a financial solvency evaluation was performed as required by Federal law 2 C.F.R. § 200.206(b)(2)(i). The Chief of the Department of Health's Audit Resolution Section performed this evaluation, which involved analyzing financial records submitted by applicants. Applicants were required to demonstrate financial solvency to be considered further for grant awards.
What was involved in the scoring process?
PA WIC established a scoring committee. All scoring committee members and alternates were trained and required to independently review and score applications. Once committee members reviewed all applications for a particular county, the committee met with the Chairman and members of the Office of Procurement to discuss scores and justifications. Committee members had an opportunity to adjust scores, if appropriate, based on group discussions. At the conclusion of each application's review, the Office of Procurement collected final scores and tabulated, averaged, and recorded them. Any application scoring 70% or higher was considered responsive. The entity with the highest scoring responsive application for any particular county was awarded that county. Any application with a final score below 70% was deemed unresponsive, this minimum threshold being stated in the RFA.
What is the standard cutoff for an award?
The Department determined that a score of 70% was necessary to assure the level of skill and expertise required to execute grant deliverables consistent with Health Equity and Continuous Quality Improvement requirements. This was supported by review of similar competitive processes conducted by other states nationwide.
What was the outcome of the RFA?
46 counties were awarded, one (1) county did not receive any applications (Bucks County), and the remaining 20 counties were unable to be awarded because the applications received were deemed unresponsive or lacked sufficient detail to score the minimum 70% threshold.
What happens to the remaining counties that weren't awarded?
Successful applicants that scored above the minimum 70% threshold and were awarded a county will now have an opportunity to submit applications for these remaining unawarded 21 counties to add to their service areas, so long as applicants were not deemed unresponsive for the particular unawarded county the applicant is applying to.
What are the considerations for entities to re-apply?
A main tenant of the competitive application process is to assure all applicants have access to the same information and equal opportunity to develop their best applications. Allowing entities deemed unresponsive during the initial application cycle to take "a second bite at the apple" would provide them with an unfair advantage to benefit from what they learned in the first round of applications. Additionally, the language in the RFA specified that "the Department may negotiate with an awarded applicant to absorb an unawarded county". Therefore, in the second round of applications, only entities awarded one or more counties may submit subsequent applications for additional counties.
What is the impact to current providers at the end of the first round of applications?
The following are changes to service providers in specific counties:
Provider Through 9/30/2022||
Provider Effective 10/1/2022|
NOTE: Provider transition to occur between 10/1/2021 and 9/30/2022 |
|Allegheny||Allegheny County Health Department||Blueprints|
|Cumberland||Family Health Council of Central PA||Hamilton Health Center|
|Erie||United Neighborhood Facilities Health Care Center||Adagio Health|
|Philadelphia||North Central Organized Regionally for Total Health, Inc||Temple University|
|Westmoreland||Mon Valley Community Health Services, Inc.||Adagio Health|
Bucks County Health Department did not submit an application and has since served the Department with a notice of intent to terminate service on September 30, 2021.
Maternal and Family Health Services was awarded 15 of the 16 counties they currently serve. They were unresponsive in their application for Berks County.
North Central PA Regional Planning and Development was awarded one (Elk) of the five counties they currently serve. There were unresponsive in their applications for Cameron, Clearfield, Jefferson and Potter counties.
South Central Community Action Program was awarded Franklin County but was unresponsive in their application for Adams County.
Broad Top Medical Center, Community Action Program of Cambria County, Community Health Services, Home Nursing Agency, Hope Enterprises and Shenango Valley Urban League were unresponsive in their applications.
What impact does this have on the WIC participant?
The competitive application process of local agency work assures that the best suited among applicants is awarded the work. This will bring expanded service hours and service modalities, such as telehealth, on-line nutrition, breastfeeding education, and other modern advances to meet participant needs and eliminate access barriers. Other possible enhanced services could include improved access to the program, more convenient local provider office locations; extended clinic hours to include evenings and weekends; the offering of options between onsite office visits and telehealth for some participants; on-line nutrition education; WIC staff having access to referral data from your doctor; easy submission of required documents from home using a smart phone; as well as other opportunities.
What will change for WIC participants?
PA WIC will continue to offer benefits to eligible participants free of charge. Such benefits that will not change include nutrition education, healthy food, breastfeeding support, screenings, and referrals to other health and social services. If clinic locations changes, participants will be notified well in advance of scheduled appointments.
Was the RFA successful?
The competitive application process for WIC Local Agencies was successful because the integrity of the RFI and RFA processes were maintained throughout the process. All interested parties received the same information, maintaining a level playing field, and information was well-vetted as evidenced by the majority of counties (46 of 67) being awarded during the first round of applications to 13 of the 24 entities interested in the RFA, including one new applicant (Temple University) earning a county award (Philadelphia). Entities that complied with the requirements of the RFA by searching the population demographics of the counties applied for and incorporated the level of detail required to clearly explain service delivery plans achieved county awards. Those entities that lacked required detail did not. The RFA furthered the goal of securing the best suited providers to serve and grow PA WIC.
For more information about PA WIC, including information on appointment openings and how to apply, visit www.pawic.com or call 1-800-WIC-WINS. The Pennsylvania WIC program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA is an equal opportunity provider.
For more information on how Pennsylvania is working to ensure healthy moms and healthy kids, visit the Department of Health website at www.health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.