COVID-19 Changes for Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), and WIC

Changes to N.C. food benefit programs:

The federal COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) permitted more flexibility in these programs. 

The PHE ended on May 11, 2023, affecting WIC food options and FNS eligibility rules.

Be sure your contact information is up to date. Be on the lookout for official mail, email or texts from these programs. 

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How will my WIC benefits change?

Starting Aug. 1, 2023, you can expect some changes to the food options you can buy with WIC benefits. 

WIC benefits are limited to certain brands, sizes, types and quantity of products. During the PHE, these restrictions loosened for some food options, like: 

  • Types of milk and yogurt 
  • Size of some whole wheat and whole grain breads 

Because the PHE has ended, these substitutions will no longer be allowed as of Aug. 1, 2023. 

More information about WIC

How to find out if the food you want to buy is WIC-eligible:

As of June 30, 2023, all FNS recipients can expect changes to:

Recertification periods

Certification periods for certain households expanded from six months to 12 months during the PHE. These extensions have ended. 

Now, most households will need to recertify for FNS every six months to keep getting benefits. 

You'll get your recertification in the mail. It will have the date you need to submit it to your local Department of Social Services. 

Claims collections

Some North Carolina households have gotten FNS overpayments. Before the PHE, those households worked with their local county DSS office to arrange repayment. During the PHE, the state paused collection of those repayments. This pause ended June 30. 

If you made payment arrangements before the PHE, those arrangements resumed as of June 30. If you had an overpayment during the PHE, you’ll need to make repayment arrangements at your local DSS office. You'll get a notice about what steps you need to take.

Three specific groups of FNS recipients will be uniquely affected by the end of the PHE:

Tab/Accordion Items

Do you currently receive FNS benefits and use PHE exemptions? During the PHE, a new exemption was provided that made some college students newly eligible for FNS. You were able to get FNS if you:

  • Completed the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA), and
  • Had an estimated family contribution of $0 on your federal student aid determination.

That exemption is no longer available. The change will be reflected on your benefit recertification.

Are you applying for FNS? As of June 11, expanded flexibility for college students is no longer available to new applicants. 

You could still get FNS benefits if you have certain exemptions, like:

  • Participating in work study
  • Working 20 hours or more a week
  • Having a dependent under the age of 12 

An ABAWD is a FNS applicant or recipient who is:

  • Between the ages of 18-49
  • Physically and mentally capable of employment
  • Not responsible for or living in a household with a minor child

Since the PHE ended, the ABAWD time limit on benefits has gone back into effect. This means ABAWDs can get FNS benefits for only three months in a three-year period UNLESS they are working or meet an exemption. All ABAWDs will get FNS benefits from July 1, 2023 to Sept. 30, 2023.

If you are an ABAWD, you'll get notices explaining the changes and actions you need to take to keep getting benefits. Notify your caseworker if you meet requirements to keep getting FNS benefits. 

If you have a conviction related to controlled substances, you can expect a substance abuse assessment at your next recertification. During the PHE, you were not required to complete an assessment to be eligible for FNS. Now that the PHE has ended, those assessments are required again. Your county's Area Mental Health Authority will complete the assessment. This will happen at the time of your application or your next recertification.