WIC benefits continue for now
by Anna Oakes
The Appalachian District Health Department said WIC nutritional benefits currently continue for 1,800 clients in three local counties, but funding for the program could run out if the federal government shutdown does not end soon.
The U.S. government shutdown that began Tuesday has resulted in the closure of many federal offices and services and is impacted the North Carolina state government and local governments as well.
The shutdown took place after Congress failed to approve a funding bill in time for the Oct. 1 start date of the federal fiscal year -- the result of an ongoing standoff over the Affordable Care Act. Up to 1 million federal workers were forced to take unpaid furloughs as a result.
Watauga Democrat previously reported on a number of actions announced as of presstime Tuesday, including the closure of National Park Service facilities on the Blue Ridge Parkway (though the road itself remains open), the furloughs of federally funded N.C. Department of Transportation staff and the closure of national forest facilities.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this week that it had furloughed 337 employees whose salaries are funded by federal dollars.
In addition, N.C. DHHS announced that funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, would begin to run out. The program is 100 percent federally funded and provides supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for almost women, infants and young children, DHHS said.
Locally, WIC is administered by the Appalachian District Health Department, serving 1,813 clients in Watauga, Ashe and Alleghany counties in August of this year.
"So far we've been assured that the state has funds available ... through the month of October," said Jennifer Greene, director of allied health services for the health department. "At this point it's business as usual, but we are concerned because that's not a lot of time. It's very serious. Obviously we're hopeful that a resolution will be reached soon."
Greene said the potential loss of WIC benefits would also impact the revenue of stores that accept WIC vouchers, Greene added.
Greene said thus far the shutdown has not affected staffing at the local department office, "but it is something that we are watching very carefully regarding the programs that are directly impacted."
DHHS said funding for North Carolina's Work First, Child Care Development Fund and Adult Protective Services and Guardianship Services would also begin to run out. Medicaid is not affected by the shutdown, and food stamps will continue through at least October, the department said.
Jim Atkinson, director of the Watauga County Department of Social Services, said the Child Care Development Fund provides approximately $900,000 a year to the county for child care subsidies.
"(It helps) purchase daycare slots for working parents. It's one of the more important things we do here, I think," Atkinson said.
Atkinson said the suspension of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding could also impact programs such as child protective services.
"We don't yet what the impact is going to be. We're hoping that this is just
going to be a few days," he said. "Right now it's not a serious problem, but
it's going to be."