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Some worried government shutdown will affect WIC

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Jessica and Tim Webb outside their Clemmons home, Wednesday, Oct. 2. 2013, with their 4-year-old son, Solomon. The Webbs are concerned they might lose WIC assistance for Solomon if the federal spending crisis is not resolved. (David Rolfe/Journal)

CLEMMONS, N.C. — Jessica Webb’s family had a WIC appointment scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, but she called first to make sure the clinic would be open.

The Clemmons resident had read about the government shutdown and how the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children could be impacted as a federally financed program.

Webb was not alone in her concerns. The Forsyth County WIC clinic received calls from other concerned clients on the second day of the shutdown. Many were hoping to move up their WIC appointments in case financing runs out.

“We’re telling them we’re open for business,” said Mayte Grundseth, director of the WIC program in Forsyth County.

The WIC program provides supplemental food vouchers, health care referrals, nutrition education and breastfeeding support to about 9 million women and children across the United States.

Forsyth County workers operated as normal Wednesday as they awaited information from the state. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported on Tuesday that WIC would shut down this month when financing runs out if the federal shutdown is continuing. DHHS was still gathering information from the federal government on Wednesday and did not provide further details.

Marlon Hunter, director of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, said the latest he had heard was that Forsyth County would have WIC financing through the end of October.

“As of now, we’re looking at those dollars being suspended at the end of the month,” Hunter said.

If reserve funding runs out, 11,500 WIC participants in Forsyth County will be impacted.

When Webb’s husband, Tim, heard about the government shutdown, one of the first things he told her was: “I hope we don’t lose WIC.” He said the program has been a big benefit to their family.

Jessica Webb started in the WIC program when she was pregnant with their son, Solomon, who is now a healthy 4-year-old. The couple had just moved here from Texas and needed a home and work. Now Jessica Webb works at a local book store full time, but living on one income is still a challenge.

Solomon can benefit from the program until he turns 5, but the Webs fear that financing could run out sooner if Congress fails to act.

“They have a whole country of people that are depending on them, so they need to get their act together,” Jessica Webb said.

The WIC program brings in $8.5 million a year in food vouchers to Forsyth County, according to Grundseth. The program is available to pregnant women, new moms, infants and children up to age 5. Participants must meet certain income guidelines.

The WIC program vouchers are designated for specific food products such as milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables and can be redeemed at WIC-approved stores to supplement families’ food supplies.

Michele Robinson-Wright said she moved to the area in 2011 from South Carolina, and she and her husband hit hard times.

“Not everybody has the perfect dream job,” she said. “Sometimes you run into obstacles.”

WIC workers provided pregnancy and nutrition advice to her at a pivotal time in her life — when she was pregnant with her first child and living in a new city away from family.

“They’ve really been like a backbone,” Robinson-Wright said of the workers.

She compares the government shutting down to throwing a pebble in a pond — it has a massive ripple effect.

WIC is just one of many programs that could be impacted by the government shutdown, but just how much is unknown.

Joe Raymond, director of the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, said he had not received any instructions from state officials about the shutdown. The state said on Tuesday that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding will begin to run out, as will the Child Care Development Fund and finances for adult protective services and guardianship services.

Raymond’s impression is that it may be a while before Forsyth DSS could be affected. He said he hopes that whenever the shutdown ends, any federal money withheld will be restored in full. If not, there will be a serious conversation later this year on how to make up those dollars locally.

“The question becomes, how will the ultimate revenues be affected by the end of the year?” Raymond said.

Meghann Evans/Winston-Salem Journal

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