The Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program is ready to help Montanans who may need food assistance, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support and is encouraging families to apply during this time of change due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ravalli County WIC Director Teresa Messerman said immediate and local help is available.
“Families may not have any idea that they are eligible for the program,” Messerman said. “Maybe their jobs don’t look the same as they have been.”
WIC is a nutrition program designed to provide nutrition and health education, breastfeeding support, access to healthy foods and referrals to other services. WIC serves families with infants and children up to age 5, pregnant and post-partum moms, and welcomes moms, dads, grandparents and foster families.
Messerman said the prediction was that there would be a dramatic increase in families needing WIC services but that has not been the case.
She said families may not be aware of the program or they may be receiving unemployment funding of an extra $600 every week. WIC may have to count that as part of a family’s income.
Messerman predicts the numbers will change mid-July.
“Unless the government pushes out another stimulus to have that $600 continue,” she said. “When families go back to their typical unemployment amount then we may see an uptick in families [using the WIC program].”
Families may not be aware that they are eligible for the program that is still using the 2019-2020 income eligibility guidelines until the end of June. Household size may include unborn.
Household size of one can have an annual income of $23,107; household size of two can have an annual income of $31,284; three - $39,481, four - $47,638; five - $55,815 and for each additional family member add $8,177.
Plus, households that are enrolled in these special programs automatically meet income eligibility for WIC: Healthy Montana Kids Plus (HMK-Plus) and Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and National School Lunch Program (free and reduced-price meals).
The Ravalli County WIC office is accepting applications and the fastest way to reach help is to call the local office at 406-802-7180.
The Ravalli County WIC staff is working from home three out of four work days during the COVID-19 pandemic and Phase 1.
At this time, WIC agencies are completing appointments over the phone for new, past and current participants. WIC has also recently updated the foods eligible on the program to provide more flexibility at the store.
“At least through the end of June, all of our waivers are in place to certify families via the telephone and they would have benefits on the same day,” Messerman said.
The waivers delay the staff’s usual gathering of height, weight and hemoglobin tests on each child until the family and staff can meet in person.
“All of the other questions I can answer over the phone, do the certification and get them their benefits,” Messerman said.
The staff can get the needed information to clients so they can use WIC right away.
“It’s been interesting, we’ve been giving breast pumps, talking about breast pumps over the phone, and set out pumps and packets for clients at the office,” Messerman said. “We’re accepting new families and due to COVID-19 we’re able to do appointments over the phone.
"We’re just happy to field questions so if a family is wondering if they are eligible they could give us a call.”
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan said in a statement on June 2 that the WIC program is available and ready to help Montanans.
“Local WIC agencies across Montana are accepting new families and are eager to help those who could benefit from the program,” Hogan said. “If you’re pregnant, a caregiver, or a new mom with children under 5, you can get the right personalized support for you and your family. This program is designed to help families and young children during an important time in growth and development.”
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