LUMBERTON — Robeson County will resume issuing benefits to poor women and their children through a federally funded program, two days after it was announced that the U.S. government shutdown would force the suspension of the WIC program.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said her agency had secured additional funds to continue the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children for at least a few more weeks.
The Robeson County Health Department oversees the local WIC program that provides food vouchers, nutrition education and health care referrals to about 5,400 women and children in the county each month. There are total of 264,000 people receiving the benefits statewide.
Health Director Bill Smith said his department was notified late Tuesday that the state would have to halt vouchers for WIC because it lacked sufficient funds.
“On Wednesday, we began telling people that we would not be giving out any more vouchers, but that we would certify them and place them on a waiting list,” Smith said. “We had already been getting calls from people asking about the status of the program.”
State officials announced on Thursday that they had the money to extend the program through October. It came from money carried over 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 statement. “But we are committed to meeting the needs of the people of North Carolina.”
North Carolina is one of the highest volume states for the WIC program, with about $16.8 million a month going to WIC participants statewide. The county’s share is about $400,000 a month, Smith said.
The federal government instituted a partial shutdown on Oct. 1 after Congress could not agree on a temporary funding measure. Republicans in the House of Representative insist that any funding measure must delay or defund the Affordable Care Act, while Democrats insist that the law remain intact.
Social Security checks and soldiers’ paychecks will be sent as usual during the shutdown, but other programs and services the government considers non-essential will be disrupted as long as the shutdown continues.
Smith said the state has also suspended the distribution of federal child care subsidies to Social Services Departments, which could result in a hit to the economy.
“That’s what pays for kids to go to day care so their parents can work,” Smith said, adding the subsidies are crucial in getting and keeping parents in the workforce.
Smith said other health programs, including maternal child health and family planning, are running on state and county money temporarily, but “in the long term we’re going to have to cut it.”
Smith said the shutdown could also affect funding for non-health programs, including the Southeast Area Transit System and other transportation programs.
“The longer it goes, the more impact there will be,” Smith said.
Tasha Oxendine, Public Relations officer for the Public Schools of Robeson County, said in a statement that some of the school system’s 24,000 students may go hungry if food stamps are cut.
“The shutdown is not affecting us yet, but if food stamps end … it will definitely affect our students,” Oxendine said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.