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Report: COVID Changes to Nutrition Program Benefit NC Moms, Kids


Wednesday, June 9, 2021   

RALEIGH, NC -- Barriers to accessing a federal nutrition program for moms and babies persist in North Carolina, but new research shows loosening the rules during the pandemic improved participants' experience.

Nearly 300 recipients were surveyed across eight counties, and the report says many didn't know about or take advantage of policy changes that would have expanded their benefits.

Study author, Duke University Assistant Professor Dr. Carolyn Barnes, said the pandemic's economic fallout has increased demand for assistance by 30% to 40% -- a surge that has challenged the capacity of many resource-constrained agencies.

"I had workers say that their caseloads had gone up 20 to 30%," said Barnes, "and that they were working overtime to process cases."

The report, from Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy, found allowing remote appointments and more flexibility in the types of food people can purchase, and extending certification periods, made it easier to use the 'WIC' program. In 2019, federal data show North Carolina reached around half of WIC-eligible residents.

The survey also found only 27% of WIC participants surveyed were aware of the greater flexibility in food choices that could have simplified their grocery shopping amid pandemic-related food shortages.

According to Barnes, most women learned about the changes through social media, family and friends, rather than from state agencies. She believes increasing public awareness about these programs can boost participation.

"Your fellow churchgoer or someone you work with, or someone you know personally, your family member that's just lost a job - if you know information about how to sign up for these programs, you can point them to those programs," she advised.

The report also found many households were unaware of the COVID-19 changes to SNAP benefits. Between 20% and 25% said they knew about emergency allotments and extended recertification deadlines. Only one-third of those surveyed were aware they could use their SNAP benefits to shop for food online.

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