Thanks to the government shutdown, roughly 50,000 poor women, infants, and children in North Carolina are stuck fending for themselves for the month of October after the state ran out of money for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) on Tuesday evening. WIC targets pregnant women, new mothers, and young children based on both their income and a determination that they will struggle to get sufficient nutrition.
The program, which served 264,000 state residents in September, has already distributed October vouchers to 80 percent of enrollees, who will be able to use their benefits despite the shutdown. But the remaining 20 percent of recipients “will be referred to community resources, such as food banks and pantries,” according to the Charlotte NBC affiliate.
Yet food banks across the country have been warning since the summer that they are already stretched beyond their capacity. The shutdown has already halted the government programs that supply them with a substantial portion of the food they serve to the needy.
North Carolina’s food banks face greater challenges than they do in many other states. The Republican-controlled state government recently cut unemployment benefits so steeply that the state became ineligible for federal jobless funds. (It was the first time a state has been dropped from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.) The cuts pushed more people into food charity lines around the state, and then the shutdown cut into those charities’ supplies. “When we’re having that increased demand and we don’t have additional resources, we’re getting an increasing number of stories about those local outlets either reducing hours, closing on certain days or having to cut back on the amount of food they allow a certain individual to get,” North Carolina Association for Feeding America Food Banks executive director Alan Briggs told MSNBC.
WIC was supposed to weather the shutdown storm. The programs initially expected to run out of money at some point in October, but the Department of Agriculture (USDA) stepped in with $125 million in emergency money that was already appropriated that was supposed to carry WIC programs around the country through at least the end of the month. “We believed everyone had found their footing,” National WIC Association director Rev. Douglas Greenaway told the Huffington Post, adding that North Carolina’s announcement “came as a surprise.“