Whether you still call it the “food stamps” program or call it by its more modern name – “Food and Nutrition Services” (FNS) – state social services officials declared on Thursday, July 6, that the program is changing.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) offers a variety of programs meant to support the ability of state residents to get food – including FNS and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women. One such program –WIC – is for women with children.
And, now, changes are coming to programs due to the May 11, 2023, end of the federal public health emergency from COVID-19.
During the pandemic, Federal guidelines allowed “certain flexibilities and exceptions,” however, they’re about to end in the coming weeks.
According to the NCDHHS More than 260,000 North Carolinians are currently enrolled in WIC, and about 1.6 million North Carolinians receive FNS benefits. Beneficiaries in the WIC and FNS programs now need to take action to keep their contact information up to date with these programs and be on the lookout for official mail, emails or texts from the programs.
Most DSS clients will be affected in some way by the new changes.
In a Thursday, July 6 press release the department explained the changes.
“Families participating in WIC can use their benefits to purchase specific items at WIC authorized retailers,” the statement explains. “WIC products are limited to certain brands, sizes, types and quantity of products. During the public health emergency, due to supply chain disruptions, some restrictions on the types of products were loosened — particularly types of milk and yogurt and the size of some whole wheat and whole grain bread. These substitutions will no longer be allowed after Aug. 1. Families can access their WIC shopping list and/or the ‘BNFT’ app to identify which food benefits are on their eWIC card. A full list of approved brand, size and form of foods that can be purchased with WIC can be found on the NC WIC Program Shopping Guide; individual products can also be scanned at the store using the BNFT app to check for eligibility.”
For more information about the WIC program, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/ncwic.
In North Carolina, the following changes will affect people receiving FNS benefits:
- Six-month recertifications. During the COVID emergency, the state agency was able to extend FNS certification periods from recertification every six months to every 12 months for certain households. These extensions have ended, and now most households will need to recertify every six months to continue receiving FNS benefits. FNS beneficiaries will receive their recertifications in the mail, and it will indicate the date by which they need to submit the recertification to their local Department of Social Services.
- Suspensions of claims collections. Some North Carolina households have received FNS overpayments. While repayments were suspended during the health emergency, these overpayments are now to be repaid by the beneficiaries through a repayment plan with their local DSS. FNS beneficiaries will be notified if there are new overpayments that have to be repaid and they will receive instructions about how to make payment arrangements.
In addition, three specific groups of FNS recipients will also be uniquely affected by the end of the PHE:
- College Students: During the pandemic, a new exemption was provided that made some college students newly eligible for FNS. Students who had completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid with an estimated family contribution of $0 were able to receive FNS benefits. That exemption is no longer available. The change will be reflected upon the students’ benefit recertification.
- Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents, An able-bodied adult is a FNS applicant or recipient who is between the ages of 18-49, physically and mentally capable of employment and not responsible for or living in a household with a minor child. With the conclusion of the public health emergency, the Able-Bodied time limit on benefits goes back into effect, meaning Able-bodied Adults Without Dependents can receive FNS benefits for only three months in a three-year period unless certain extra work requirements or exemptions are met.
- Individuals with class H or I felony convictions: This category relates to those people with felony convictions for controlled substances. During the emergency, people with class H or I felony convictions weren’t required to complete a substance abuse assessment to be eligible for FNS. Now that the health emergency has ended, those assessments are again required, and individuals will be required to complete the assessment at application or their next recertification.
If you want to learn more about additional food resources in the county and the state, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/foodresources.