South Carolina is working to overcome barriers preventing some of WIC’s benefits

During her recent pregnancy, Kaitlyn Hair struggled financially just to provide adequate nutrition for herself and her unborn baby.

A former Apple customer service technician, Hair said her earnings weren’t high, and even were heavily depleted “with all the inflation that was going on.”

“It was hard to take on the responsibility of getting groceries, having enough to eat, having the right nutrition,” Hair said. “So I looked up WIC.”

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, is a federally funded program that provides food, nutrition education, and support to pregnant and postpartum women. , infants and children up to 5 years found to be in a nutritional state. risk.

The program supported Hair when she was pregnant and is helping her support her son, now eight months old.

“They took a lot of the financial burden off, especially with baby food, fruits and vegetables,” Hair said.

Analysis:Shortage of infant formula hits low-income women, mothers of color the hardest

From USA TODAY:Inflation and COVID, Shortages of Infant Formula and Food Insecurity: Why Aren’t More Eligible Americans Using WIC?

But it’s not just the food she enjoys. This is the advice and support she received as a first-time breastfeeding mother.

“There’s always someone there to help you,” said Hair, who is now a stay-at-home mom.

SCDHEC seeks to extend the reach of WIC

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), which administers WIC locally, aims to be a source of help for more people like Hair who can benefit from the program.

To do this, the agency is working to overcome barriers that make it difficult to deliver the service to those who need it, said Kandi Fredere, director of public health for DHEC’s Upstate Region.

Fredere said his agency was facing staffing issues. Ideally, she says, there would be at least 35 nutritionists covering this 11-county region. Eleven of these positions are vacant.

“You just don’t have the people to do the job,” Fredere said. “This makes it difficult for us to provide the service in a timely manner.”

Administrative staff members work one-on-one with the family to ensure they are eligible for WIC services, schedule appointments with nutritionists and explain how the program works, Fredere said.

Nutritionists conduct a nutritional assessment with the family and, based on the assessment, will then provide individualized education to improve nutritional outcomes, she said. The nutritionist then “constructs” the food package based on the needs identified during the assessment.

Food Lion is among the leading stores that accept WIC and allow customers to easily identify eligible WIC items for purchase.

DHEC registered dietitians work more closely with high-risk clients and provide more detailed training and assessments. Breastfeeding staff work with breastfeeding mothers to educate and coach them through the breastfeeding process, Fredere said.

Many people think they make too much money to qualify for WIC.

“I think it’s important from a general public education standpoint to understand that even if you’re a full-time working parent, you might meet the criteria if you meet the income guidelines,” he said. said Fredere.

Income eligibility guidelines published on the DHEC website range from an annual income of $25,142 for a family of one to $86,266 for a family of eight.

The program primarily helps pregnant, postpartum, nursing, or newborn women, infants from birth to 1 year old, and children ages one to five years old.

But grandparents and single fathers may also qualify.

“Just because it’s women, infants and children doesn’t mean these single dads can’t qualify,” Fredere said. “I think sometimes people think it’s just for unemployed or very low income people, but there are actually a number of people who qualify. They just don’t know it.”

People who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Medicaid may also be eligible for WIC.

Fredere said foster children are also eligible for WIC. She shared that her own adopted children were on WIC before she adopted them.

“They are considered zero income because they are alone,” she said.

Food Lion is one of the leading grocery brands that accepts WIC card payments.  The Grocer makes it easy for WIC recipients to find WIC-approved items using WIC tags.

WIC attendees increased during pandemic in SC

As of June 2022, WIC had nearly 21,000 participants in the Upstate region, which includes Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, McCormick, Oconee, Pickens, Spartanburg, and Union counties.

South Carolina is among the few states that have seen an increase of more than 15% in the number of WIC participants, from February 2020 to February 2021, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and policy institute. nonpartisan politician based in Washington, DC. .

According to the Oct. 21 study, nationally, people enrolled in the WIC and receiving benefits increased by only 2% between February 2020 and February 2021, a year after the start of the pandemic. The study also indicates that “since the onset of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, the number of people eligible for WIC has likely increased significantly.”

The national total of WIC attendees was 6.3 million in 2019, but fell to 6.2 million in 2021. In South Carolina, attendance was 84,596 overall in 2019. The total rose to 86,859 in 2021. – would be good for a chart via the POINT

The Upstate region saw WIC attendance increase year over year from June 2020 (20,369) to June 2021 (20,566). The June 2022 total represents an increase of 205 participants from June 2021.

National Initiative Launched to Drive WIC Participation and Awareness

Kim Betton, public affairs director for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Southeast Region, said WIC “saves lives and improves the health of women, infants, and children.” nutritionally at-risk children.

“We make it a priority to educate mothers and communities across the Southeast and across our nation about the benefits of WIC,” said Betton, whose office is based in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Results of studies conducted by the FNS and other non-governmental entities prove that WIC is one of the most successful and cost-effective nutrition intervention programs in the country,” she said.

FNS has launched initiatives to improve participation, awareness and access to the program through increased outreach. It’s also looking to evolve and bring more innovation to the program, Betton said.

Locally, DHEC promotes the program at community events, sometimes using its “Service On Wheels” mobile unit to help expand WIC’s geographic reach.

DHEC is also increasing access by providing remote WIC service, which was essential during the height of the pandemic. There is a federal exemption for remote service in effect until mid-January 2023.

“We can load your card for you over the phone and then send that card to you,” Fredere said. “You don’t need to go to the health department.”

Fredere said remote service is that appointments fill up quickly, though.

Certain WIC benefits now on eWIC cards

Becoming certified as a WIC participant provides access to one-on-one nutrition-related counseling. Following this process, participants receive an eWIC card that looks and functions like a credit or debit card.

It is loaded with funds for participants to purchase food designed to meet their family’s needs. Approved items generally include infant formula, dairy products, whole grain wheats, breads, fruits and vegetables.

Previously, these funds were released via paper vouchers.

With the new eWIC, “you don’t even have to tell the cashier you have a WIC or anything,” Hair said. “You just swiped it.”

The monetary value of the cards varies. Fredere said the average value is around $300 per month. These funds can be used at WIC-approved stores and farmers markets.

WIC vendors include Food Lion, Walmart Supercenter, Harris Teeter, Ingles and Publix. Farmers’/roadside markets that accept WIC payment include the TD Saturday Farmer’s Market, Travelers Rest Farmer’s Market, and Greer Farmer’s Market in Greenville County; Ragan Orchards Roadside Market, Hub City Farmers Market, and Poteat Produce Roadside Market in Spartanburg County; and Palmetto Farmers Market and Carolina Fresh Market & More in Anderson County.

“Everyone is a little different in that if you have particular risks, your package may be built a little differently,” she said. “But it’s much more focused on nutrition and health. You won’t get potato chips or Oreos on WIC.

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