Nutrition program for moms and babies in NC runs out of federal funding

rchristensen@newsobserver.comOctober 8, 2013 

— The federal government shutdown will soon affect the ability of thousands of North Carolina’s low-income mothers and their infants to get food and nutrition.

The state announced Tuesday that it had discontinued issuing food and nutrition benefits to women, infants and young children in the state because the shutdown in Washington had dried up federal funding. Because 80 percent of those eligible have already received their benefits for October, the shutdown will not immediately affect most recipients. In North Carolina, 264,000 women, infants and young children are enrolled in the program.

“Some of our most vulnerable citizens, pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and young children, will be affected by the interruption of WIC services due to the federal shutdown,” said Aldona Wos, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

This month, state budget director Art Pope and state personnel director Neal Alexander sent a memo to state agencies saying that no state money should be used on programs that receive federal funds. Wos warned at that time that other programs could run out of money, including North Carolina’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, called Work First; Adult Protection Services and Guardianship Services; and the Child Care Development Fund.

WIC stands for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. Nationally more than 8.9 million mothers and children under 5 living near or below the poverty line rely on the program’s supplemental vouchers for healthy food, breastfeeding support, infant formula and other necessary items. The program was begun in 1972.

A few women and men waited just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in the lobby of the WIC office at the Wake County Health Clinic on Sunnybrook Road in Raleigh.

“I pretty much use WIC for my baby milk, and for fruits and vegetables. Without it, I don’t know what I’d do,” said Iris Perry, 26, a mother of four children from infant to age 7.

“I work, and I’m a student, but it’s so hard to make ends meet,” said Perry, who has used WIC since her first child was born. The child care worker could compensate for a WIC shutdown by using part of her rent money, she said as she awaited her appointment.

Lisa Dickens, 25, worried about how she would afford milk for her twin boys.

“They can go through a jug in two days,” she said, bobbing the youngsters on her knee. Dickens, a caterer, estimated she gets $12 to $25 per week worth of groceries through WIC.

Jennifer Jeffries, 28, said she depended heavily on WIC when her first baby was born premature, and later when her husband died.

“These programs are for people who truly need it,” said the mother of four children ages 1, 3, 6 and 11. “They’re punishing people. … It’s ridiculous. All it is is a bunch of little boys arguing that they want their way."

Now a self-described stay-at-home mother and part-time house-cleaner, Jeffries figures she could deal with a WIC shutdown by canceling the family’s monthly outing – usually an outing to a skating rink or the movies.

The state said that WIC clients should keep their nutrition appointments and continue redeeming their October vouchers.

Families affected by the change are being encouraged to apply for food stamps and told to contact food banks and pantries in their communities.

Officials said some staff furloughs may be necessary, but DHHS is working with the federal government to find funding to keep local clinics open.

The WIC budget in North Carolina is $205 million, totally federally funded. North Carolinians using WIC make $16.6 million in food purchases at more than 2,000 food vendors.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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