North Carolina only state to cut off WIC vouchers, other states using contingency funds

UPDATE (10/10/2013 5 p.m.): U.S. Rep David Price’s office confirmed with the USDA that enough contingency funds were sent to DHHS to continue the program. Price plans on sending McCrory a letter asking why, given that, NC was the only state to cease issuing vouchers.

North Carolina is the first, and only, state in the nation to stop issuing vouchers for formula and nutritional food for at-risk newborns, young children and expectant mothers as part of the federal government shutdown.

The aberration was noted this week in publications like Governing, a national public policy magazine, which pointed out $125 million from a USDA emergency contingency plan kept the program up and running in the 49 other states.

Now, questions are being raised about why North Carolina stopped issuing vouchers on Tuesday, instead of furloughing employees or finding other sources of funding to keep vouchers for formula and food going to the young children and their mothers that depend on the program.

“The first thing you do is furlough employees rather than cutting out essential things like food to babies,” said Dr. William Pilkington, the head of Cabarrus Health Alliance, the Piedmont county’s public health agency. “I don’t understand morally or otherwise how the governor made the decision to withdraw food from babies.”

Calls for comment from McCrory’s office and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately returned Thursday. This post will be updated with their responses when we hear back.

Reached late Thursday afternoon, the Rev. Douglas Greenaway of the National WIC Association said he didn’t know why North Carolina was having so many more issues than other states. He did say that USDA has reached out to the state trying to get the program back running.

“I know that USDA and North Carolina have been in conversations with each other,” Greenaway said. “USDA has made an offer of assistance with some of the available contingency funds that are left.”

Greenaway said he didn’t know whether or not North Carolina officials were resistant to the idea of accepting the funds or not, or if there was a pre-existing cash flow problem that led to an early shutdown.

“I would just hope that the conversation with USDA are fruitful and produce positive resolutions for mothers and infants,” he said.

Pilkington said his office turned away 35 to 40 women in the last two days, pointing them to area food banks as a possible way to get needed formula. For many low-income families, the high cost of formula, (about $15 for a can of infant formula that makes 28 bottles) is a barrier.

Food banks in the state have already been stretched thin because of problems with the state’s food stamps delivery system that left many waiting for months for the emergency food benefits.

On Tuesday, in the midst of a day-long legislative oversight committee in which lawmakers grilled Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos about issues in her agency, Wos released a statement about the stop in WIC benefits.

“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,” Wos said, in a written statement.

The $205 million program served approximately 264,000 women, infants and children in September, and DHHS estimated the halt in vouchers will affect 20 percent of its eligible clients this month. WIC staff are still working to offer nutritional advice and refer clients to food banks for help and already-issued vouchers can be used through the end of the month.

Most other states appear to be using a combination of the USDA contingency funding or are using other state monies to cover the cost of the program during the federal government shutdown, which is in its 10th day.

In neighboring South Carolina, the WIC program is continuing to run through the end of the month with state officials using other funding to stop the gap in funding until federal money flows through to the program again.

Utah’s WIC program directors initially announced they’d be ceasing operations immediately on Oct.1, but quickly restarted the program  after it received a portion of the $125 million that the USDA provided to state’s in contingency questions.

It’s not clear whether North Carolina received a portion of that emergency funding or not. Calls to DHHS for clarification were not immediately returned.

North Carolina does have $650 million in its rainy day fund, but would need legislative approval in order to be accessed.

Food banks around the state are looking for donations of formula, non-perishable food and money. The N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks has an interactive map here with links to all the food banks around the state. All are looking for formula or financial donations. To donate to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which serves an area from Durham to Wilmington, click here for more information.

This post has changed from the original to include comments from the head of the National WIC Association.

29 Comments

  1. Cheryl

    October 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    This is inexcusable. Gov. McCory and his staff should be ashamed of themselves.

  2. Charlotte

    October 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    UNC Law students have started organizing a food drive in Central NC– we hope to spur increased donations to replenish depleted food pantries in communities all over NC!
    Find us on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/communitywic/

  3. wncgirl

    October 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Gotta love these right-wing Christians… they get a tax break while babies go without food.

  4. forward together

    October 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    May he and his family have nothing but tragedy for the rest of their days

  5. Steve Harrison

    October 10, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Wow. They got the money and still cut off the vouchers. Did you get a date on when the funds from USDA were transferred to DHHS?

  6. david esmay

    October 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    One more example of the sadistic nature of Republican ideology and the Tea-billies running the NCGA.

  7. Pie

    October 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    The right wing plutocrats want to make it as painful as possible to be poor* in NC.

    *Or gay. Or elderly. Or mentally ill. Or anyone who doesn’t directly contribute to their cause of dragging NC back into the 1930s.

  8. Harry

    October 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Isn’t it a sad world…..when my wife and I are actually taking into consideration, weather, taxes, things to do, etc. as we start making the move toward retirement in a couple of years….to have to consider political ideology. North Carolina was my number one, having served in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejuene in Jacksonville. We love the outer and inner banks, and have seriously researched the area as a retirement spot. More and more though, we continue to see NC in the news for, as far as we are concerned, very negative legislature and general attitudes toward the middle classes. It’s sad, but I think we’re going to look elsewhere. I think much of it is due to the success of NC’s recent tech boom, and the Charlotte area growing as well. With success comes money, and with money comes greed…..With greed comes the Republican party. I think if the middle classes of NC would unite, educate themselves, politically speaking, and then most importantly, VOTE…..real changes could come to NC. I spend most of my time there, or I did…in the more rural areas in the eastern part, away from the “GROWTH” so I mainly interact with regular people, not the greedy types. It’s too bad they don’t take their voting rights more seriously.

  9. […] Progressive Pulse – North Carolina only state to cut off WIC vouchers, other states using contingency funds […]

  10. GetoffGod'speople

    October 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Conservative Christians! This is not Christ like! These are phony and false prophets. Watch the move of God jam and lock up their finances.

  11. LayintheSmakDown

    October 10, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    There are way too many contingencies out there to waste on this. Heck, Medicaid is going to go over budget how many hundreds of millions this year?

  12. david esmay

    October 10, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    LSD, Berger and Co. set the whole shortfall up two years ago and were repeatedly warned by agency heads this would occur, and then tried to play stupid when they were confronted with their actions.

  13. Jennifer

    October 10, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Funny how I thought moving here from the messed up politics in South Carolina would be an improvement.

  14. Doug Gibson

    October 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    LSD,

    Wow, that’s weak. I suggest you sleep on it and come back in the morning. Or else wait until your relief intern comes online at 9 pm.

    Oh, and for everyone who’s just tuning in, the previous shocking revelation about DHHS (that is, the one that came out about 48 hours ago) included plenty of evidence that cost overruns in our state Medicaid program had as much to do with pie-in-the sky budgeting by the General Assembly as DHHS inefficiencies.

    I know, right? Hard to keep up with this stuff.

  15. Nicole

    October 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Baby formula is not necessary. I breastfed all four of my babies and 99% of women can breastfeed, too. They simply choose not to or quit after trying once or twice or they don’t bother because WIC is there to provide free formula. People should stop being so dependent on the government for their every need. Maybe this will be a wake-up call for people to start being a little more independent. I applaud NC and hope they save our state’s money for more important needs.

  16. Teresa Olsen

    October 10, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Shameful and so unnecessary. This act officially makes us the #1 BULLY state in the union.

  17. […] Thursday evening that it had secured funding to resume the WIC program. The announcement comes after reports that North Carolina was the only  state in the nation to stop issuing vouchers for formula and […]

  18. Frances Jenkins

    October 11, 2013 at 6:44 am

    You people will stop at nothing to destroy this administration, lies and more lies continue.

  19. mark

    October 11, 2013 at 7:21 am

    so did any of you bother to click on the governing link provided in the story, tells a different story than the story its said to back up, it says that other states will soon follow suit, nc is just first

  20. Allie

    October 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I wanna know who the yahoo is calling pregnant and breast feeding women “vulnerable.” These 2 categories are, overall, some of the most empowered women you will ever meet!

  21. […] Carolina was the only state in the country to discontinue WIC benefits after the USDA confirmed it would use $125 million in contingency […]

  22. Leonor Both

    October 11, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I used to work for WIC in NC and the problem with many of our government programs, whether to assist the poor (or the rich), is they are poorly, poorly administered, resulting in the overcharged taxpayer. Whether or not we should help babies, children and mothers is not in question – we need to ensure the health and safety of every baby, child and person in our country, regardless of the circumstances (yet another discussion).

    At WIC, there are too many employees (it takes 10 people to change a lightbulb), there is little guidance and other services that should accompany the WIC vouchers (i.e. how to budget, how to make education a priority, etc.), there are unneccesary administrative costs (archaic computer systems, inflated upper management salaries) and there is absolutely no incentive to make the program run efficiently and effectively. NONE. So the solution? We close it down – let’s throw out the baby with the bath water.

    My only hope with WIC and other government programs, is maybe, maybe – the powers that be, will take this opportunity (lack of funds) to assess these programs and make them more effective, efficient and yes – cheaper, while maintaining the health and safety of all people. It can be done.

  23. Stephani

    October 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    @Nicole

    That is the most ill informed and ignorant thing I have ever read. Where the heck did you get your statistics and information from?

  24. Jayhawk

    October 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Nicole, saying a blanket formula is not necessary is just ill-informed. Just because you did not encounter problems breastfeeding does not mean that 99% of women ought to be able to breastfeed without any trouble.

    It’s a huge leap to imply that you understand every other womans motivation/purpose in any decision as you most definitely are not a representative of every women. It’s wrong to believe your experience as a mother makes you the same as every other mother, which is the only way you would be able to justify claiming to know other’s purposes for their decisions. Other women have different bodies from you and some may actually be physically unable to breastfeed for reasons you’ve never experienced/encountered and may carry lots of shame about it and instead you’re lumping everyone into a category of lazy and negligent.

    The fact remains that women who do not breastfeed, for whatever reason, must offer their children formula and that formula keeps those babies alive. As a parent you should be ashamed of supporting the legislators whose decisions hurt and starve innocent babies.

    If you’re going to talk about the people receiving services, I’d recommend you actually do some research beyond coming to the table with only your personal opinions created by your own experiences.

    Here’s something to get you started:
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-04-03/health/sc-health-0403-breast-feeding-20130403_1_milk-supply-lactation-breast

  25. david esmay

    October 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Frances, this administration will be taken down by the weight of it’s own stupidity, We are just pointing it out.

  26. Alan

    October 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Hey Frances,

    Could you actually point out the lies to enlighten us all?

  27. Frances Jenkins

    October 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    WIC is funded in North Carolina. Left wing press spreads fear and misinformation.

  28. Alan

    October 14, 2013 at 8:06 am

    Frances, you still haven’t pointed out any lies… please, enlighten us with some specifics…

  29. Steve R

    October 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Yes, WIC is now funded but the fact that the state cut off funds in the first place is inexcusable. Do people remember the Peter Principle? Gov. McCrory is a good example of that. He should have remained the mayor of Charlotte where he did a decent job. But not as governor of one of our original 13 states.