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More than 1.8M North Carolinians to be impacted by food benefit changes

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(The Center Square) – Special exemptions and flexibilities for federal food benefits are phasing out in the coming weeks and months, triggered by the end of the federal health emergency for COVID-19 in May.

The changes, which stem from loosened restrictions to cope with the pandemic, will impact programs through Food and Nutrition Services and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC.

About 1.6 million North Carolinians receive Food and Nutrition Services benefits, while more than 260,000 are enrolled in WIC, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Supply chain disruptions during the public health emergency prompted federal officials to loosen restrictions on brands, sizes, types and quality of products available through the WIC program. Those restrictions, which include types of milk and yogurt and the size of some whole wheat and whole grain bread, will go back into effect on Aug. 1.

A state WIC Program Shopping Guide allows participants to review a full list of approved brand, size and forms of foods that remain available.

Other changes involve recertification of benefits for Food and Nutrition Services, which were extended to every 12 months during the pandemic. The recertifications will revert to the prepandemic six-month cycle, and beneficiaries will be contacted by mail with a new date.

For North Carolina families that received overpayments for Food and Nutrition Services, repayments that were suspended during the pandemic will resume through local Department of Social Services offices. Beneficiaries will be notified of overpayments and how to make arrangements for repayment plans.

College students and able-bodied adults without dependents could also lose benefits. An exemption for certain students to receive Food and Nutrition Services benefits is no longer available, while able-bodied adults without dependents will be subject to the prepandemic time restriction of three months in a three-year period, unless certain work requirements or exemptions are met.

The suspension of substance abuse assessments required for individuals with felony convictions for controlled substances to receive Food and Nutrition Services will also return. Individuals with Class H or I felony convictions will again be required to undergo the assessments at application or their next recertification, according to state officials.

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