Childhood nutrition advocates are breathing a little easier today, as state government officials announced late Thursday that they are reinstating benefits that provide healthy food to women and children.
The announcement came two days after the state shuttered its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in the face of the federal government shutdown.
WIC provides food vouchers, nutrition education and health care referrals for 264,000 women and children monthly in North Carolina. The federal government usually pays for the program’s $205 million cost.
During the closure of the program, all clients would be placed on a waiting list until funding became available and/or the shutdown ended.
“It’s very good news,” said Maggie Simmons, spokesman for the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, which oversees the disbursement of the WIC benefits.”This means we’re back to normal operations, and effective immediately, we will discontinue the maintenance of the waiting list, and (benefit) vouchers will begin going out.”
State Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said her agency had secured additional funds to continue the program for at least a few more weeks.
Wos’ department said the money to extend the program through October came from leftover money from last year, more contingency funds from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and rebates from WIC formula manufacturer Nestle.
“Because of the uncertainty of the federal shutdown, we know this may only be a temporary solution,” Wos said in a news release. “But we are committed to meeting the needs of the people of North Carolina.”
The department announced Tuesday it would halt vouchers for the WIC program because it lacked sufficient funds. Local health departments were being alerted to resume issuing vouchers.
“Our state is one of the highest volume states for the WIC program, so we take the impact of the shutdown very seriously,” Wos said.
As for Simmons, she said she didn’t know how long the funding would last, but noted she is grateful for any respite.
“Our mission is to protect and promote the health of the community, and we want to serve them as best we can,” she said Friday morning. “So at least for now, we’re back to business as usual.”