RALEIGH — With food prices rising, more North Carolina families with young children are using benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to access healthy, nutritious food.
Rising food prices are straining family budgets. Nationally, grocery prices rose 13% over the last year, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 10% of North Carolina households experience food insecurity, meaning their ability to access enough food is limited by money or other resources.
WIC is a federal program that provides nutritious food, breastfeeding support, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women and to children up to age 5. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services administers WIC in partnership with Local Health Departments, Health Districts and Federally Qualified Health Centers in North Carolina.
North Carolina had the country’s greatest increase in WIC participation during the pandemic, according to a new report by the Food Research & Action Center. FRAC found North Carolina’s WIC participation rate increased by 21% between February 2020 and February 2022. WIC participation by children — who make up half of those enrolled in WIC — increased by nearly 36%.
“Ensuring North Carolina families have access to healthy and nutritious food is at the heart of the department’s priority to strengthen the well-being of children and families, and our work to make WIC benefits available to more families is a major step in that direction,” said Dr. Charlene Wong, assistant secretary for Children and Families.
Increased benefits and program flexibilities put in place during the pandemic have contributed to the increase in enrollment and participation. For example, families and children participating in WIC have received increased benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables since June 2021. In addition, families have been able to enroll and re-enroll in WIC without going to a WIC clinic to reduce the risk of potential COVID-19 exposure. WIC participants also have been able to receive their monthly food benefits and attend appointments off-site via video chat and phone.
“North Carolina took advantage of federal flexibilities to streamline how families could access WIC during the pandemic,” said Mary Anne Burghardt, State WIC director. “Local WIC agencies have done great work in supporting families in their communities during challenging times.”
In the coming months, the federal government will make decisions about keeping WIC flexibilities in place for the long-term.
Families can learn more about WIC eligibility and benefits at www.ncdhhs.gov/ncwic and submit an online form to begin the application process.