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In the latest issue of Prosperity Watch, Alexandra Sirota takes a look at food insecurity in North Carolina, and finds that far too many of our state’s residents don’t have enough food to eat. As a result, recent decisions by state government to temporarily halt critical food assistance programs due to the federal government shutdown placed thousands of families at risk of hunger–especially those living in rural North Carolina. See the latest Prosperity Watch for details.

Congressman David Price, speaking to a group of reporters today at an on-the-record lunch in downtown Raleigh, said that he still had concerns about North Carolina temporarily suspended issuing WIC vouchers in the course of the federal government shutdown.

“It seems like they were eager to cut them off,” Price said, comparing North Carolina’s decision to suspend issuing new formula and nutritional food vouchers to other states.

Price is a Democrat from Chapel Hill.

Price

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.)

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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.

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Low-income mothers on WIC can continue to use federally-funded vouchers for food and formula but state health officials warn the program could be scaled back as the federal government shutdown continues.

In North Carolina, the $205 million women, infants and children (WIC) nutritional program is funded entirely through federal money, and serves an estimate 264,000 pregnant or breast-feeding women and their children with breast-feeding support, formula and vouchers for healthy food.

The program is also a big deal for grocery merchants, with more than $16.6 million in WIC vouchers spent each month in grocery stores around the state.

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