Raleigh, N.C. — A state-run but federally funded program designed to ensure proper nutrition for pregnant women and their young children is still taking applications for now in North Carolina despite the partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C.
The state Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday it can enroll new applicants for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as WIC, through at least next Tuesday. Current enrollees should continue receiving help for now, officials said, although that's subject to change.
The WIC program provides food vouchers, nutrition education and health care referrals for 264,000 women and children monthly in North Carolina, including 19,000 in Wake County. The federal government pays the entire $205 million to run the program.
"We have great outcomes that show children that come through our program do actually better when they go to school and things like that," said Ramon Rojano, director of Wake Couny Human Services. "Those are critical years for brain development, so it's very important to have appropriate nutrition in the first years of life."
DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos said officials are working with the federal government to identify enough funding to keep WIC clinics open and maintain staff levels as long as possible.
"We feel this is critical since, despite the federal shutdown, clients will continue to come to the local WIC agencies and the volume of questions from clients and vendors will likely increase rather than diminish," Wos said in a statement.
Officials said WIC-eligible clients might be eligible to enroll in North Carolina's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
The agency has had to furlough since Tuesday hundreds of state employees whose salaries are paid all or in part with federal funds. Other programs that could soon run out of money include inspections of some health care facilities, the Work First welfare program, the Childcare Development Fund and Adult Protective and Guardianship Services.
The state Department of Transportation has also been pinched by the federal shutdown.
"We've actually had some folks come into (state Division of Motor Vehicles offices) where we couldn't get them the license and ID card they needed because they couldn't change their name with Social Security," DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said.
So far, 22 public transit DOT employees have been furloughed.
"When we talk about federal funding, it touches rail projects, aviation projects, highway projects, bike and pedestrian projects, port projects," Charbonneau said. "The longer this goes on, the more impact it could have."