LAURINBURG — With a suspension of WIC payouts this week due to the federal shutdown, it is estimated that some 350 eligible county residents will not receive October food vouchers.
Tuesday was the final day that supplemental WIC food vouchers were disbursed before the state squelched funding to the normally federally-funded program. According to Scotland County Health Director David Jenkins, about 80 percent of the county’s eligible women received food vouchers for the month of October.
The program will continue to provide nutrition education and breastfeeding support as usual, placing eligible candidates on a waiting list for food vouchers. Those on the waiting list will be notified when funds become available.
“We’ll pretty much continue as far as providing referrals, education, and support, but no actual vouchers are being provided,” Jenkins said.
Vouchers distributed so far in October will be valid at grocery stores and other food vendors that normally accept WIC vouchers.
“We don’t know when this is going to be resolved,” said Morgan Richardson, WIC director for the Scotland County Department of Health. “If they have an appointment with us, we encourage people to keep their appointments.”
Richardson said that about half of the Scotland County women receiving WIC vouchers also receive food stamps.
Some 1,750 women in the county are part of the WIC program, each receiving vouchers for $30 to $100 of food per month depending on whether or not they are breastfeeding.
“Especially in times like this, that’s what we try to encourage is for moms to breastfeed because situations like this can happen any time,” said Richardson.
The program will increase referrals to local food banks and to Food and Nutrition Services, as funding to that program is expected to continue through October.
But local food banks may not be able to provide much help.
“We’ve been out of food for nearly three weeks,” said Leslie Womack, director of Church and Community Services. “When we got all the food from the post office drive in May we gave out all of the food, when we were open, from the middle of May to about two weeks ago. … We’re only open when we have food unfortunately.”
Womack said that many other local food banks are in the same situation or will be soon. Even while receiving WIC vouchers and food stamps, many Scotland County residents rely on food banks anyway, most of which are only open once a month — some once weekly — and typically cannot supply the fresh foods that can be purchased with WIC vouchers.
“Churches still give food and a few individuals when they go shopping will bring us food, but it’s generally mostly dry goods and occasionally meat,” Womack said.
Womack asked that anyone considering donating to a food bank bring fresh food or items that children can prepare without adult assistance.
“If people want to donate to a food bank, they should pick a food bank and donate cheese or milk or cereal, because those are things that children can eat,” she said.
Shoppers at a local retail store on Wednesday didn’t exactly know who to blame about the shutdown — but they were universally concerned about the loss of federally-funded programs that provide assistance.
“I blame the whole lot of them,” said Francis Skipper, of Laurinburg. “Everyone in Washington. I feel bad about it because the ones who are on WIC need it. They are going to be the ones who’s hurting, not those people up there that made this happen. They’re going to get their paychecks no matter what.”
“They’re hurting babies,” said Hattie Cockrell, also a Laurinburg resident. “I don’t think that it’s fair for them to cut funds for people who have no control over what goes in in the world around them.”
Betty Stogner and Sharon Hardin, of Rockingham, were browsing the aisles together. Hardin said “a lot of people are going to go hungry,” and Stogner said elected officials should go for a few months without pay, to pay taxpayers back for wasted time.
“Everyday people are losing out,” said Farrell McLaurin, of Laurinburg. “The ones who are just trying to get by.”