Access to nutritious food is foundational for overall health and well-being. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers several programs to support individuals’ access to healthy food, including Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Changes are coming to these two programs due to the end of the federal public health emergency on May 11, 2023. Federal PHE guidelines had allowed certain flexibilities and exceptions, which are ending in the coming weeks and months.
More than 260,000 North Carolinians are currently enrolled in WIC, and about 1.6 million North Carolinians currently receive FNS benefits. Beneficiaries in the WIC and FNS programs should 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.
Changes to WIC Benefits
Families participating in WIC can use their benefits to purchase specific items at WIC authorized retailers. WIC products are limited to certain brands, sizes, types and quantity of products. During the PHE, 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.
Changes to FNS Benefits
In North Carolina, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is called Food and Nutrition Services (FNS). The following changes will impact individuals receiving FNS benefits:
Six-month recertifications: During the PHE, 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 PHE, 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 must be repaid and will receive instructions about how to make payment arrangements.
Three specific groups of FNS recipients will also be uniquely affected by the end of the PHE:
College Students: During the PHE, 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 Adult Without Dependents: An ABAWD 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 PHE, the ABAWD time limit on benefits goes back into effect, meaning ABAWDs 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 individuals with felony convictions for controlled substances. During the PHE, individuals with class H or I felony convictions were not required to complete a substance abuse assessment to be eligible for FNS. Now that the PHE has ended, those assessments are again required, and individuals will be required to complete the assessment at application or their next recertification.
To learn more about additional food resources, visit www.ncdhhs.gov/foodresources.