North Carolina's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will cease benefits because of the federal government shutdown, officials announced Tuesday.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the WIC program will stop issuing food benefits at close of business on Tuesday.
"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 DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos.
About 80 percent of eligible clients have already been issued food benefits for the month of October. DHHS has determined that federal WIC funds available to North Carolina will be enough to cover October WIC vouchers, but not sufficient to issue additional vouchers, officials said. The North Carolina WIC Program currently serves an average of 270,000 people each month.
Celettee Keyes said as a single mother, not getting her vouchers will make things even harder.
"I’ll be glad when they make-up their mind so many people won't have to suffer because cutting WIC, it’s going to be hard," she said.
Keyes said WIC has helped her and her one-year-old little girl get by and now she will have to ask family for help.
"It pays for her (daughters) milk, cereal, fruits and vegetables. It comes in handy," she said.
The Pitt County Board of Health discussed the issue at a meeting Tuesday night. Pitt County Health Director Dr. John Morrow said their clients should keep their appointments and they will continue a normal operation.
"We're going to do our best to serve the clients the best ways we know how with the restrictions that have been placed on us," he said.
Dr. Morrow said staff members will continue to offer nutrition education and support services.
"Also we'll be keeping a waiting list, so as soon as the funding is restored we can bring those people onto the program and issue vouchers," he said.
WIC clients are advised to keep their nutrition appointments and continue redeeming October vouchers, and WIC vendors should continue normal operations to accept existing vouchers, according to the DHHS. Officials will continue to oversee the daily availability of federal funds and will announce changes if they become necessary.
The DHHS is also encouraging impacted families to apply for food stamps. Local WIC staff may also refer clients to food banks and pantries in their communities.
Nutrition and breastfeeding education/support services, such as providing breast pumps, breastfeeding supplies, and breastfeeding peer counseling services will continue to be provided by Pitt County WIC.
(For more information about Pitt County WIC services, call 252-902-2388.)
While some staff furloughs may be necessary in order to sustain essential program operations as long as possible, DHHS officials said they are working with the U.S. government to identify federal funding to keep local WIC clinics open. During this time, WIC staff will continue to support clients by providing nutrition education and referrals to local resources, the DHHS stated.
The WIC program has an annual budget of $205 million and is 100 percent federally-funded. During September, the program provided supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for almost 264,000 women, infants and young children in North Carolina, according to the DHHS. In addition, North Carolinians using WIC make nearly $16.6 million in food purchases every month at more than 2,000 food vendors around the state.