In the best of times, access and retention in the WIC, SNAP and Medicaid programs is a challenge across the nation and in North Carolina. In 2019, North Carolina only reached 54 percent of the WIC eligible population. While SNAP coverage rates are much higher in North Carolina at 85 percent, mirroring the national average, many counties struggle to meet federal and state benchmarks for timeliness and error rates. As a result, many eligible families are denied access to these program or experience delays in receiving crucial benefits. This tenuous access to WIC, SNAP and Medicaid contributes to food insecurity and barriers to health care access among the state most vulnerable families.
This project is a qualitative study to better understand existing barriers to participation in social safety net programs.
COVID-19 Related Additional Work
In response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, policymakers made important policy changes to enhance access to safety net programs, yet these changes were made at a time when the programs were strained by the pandemic. Federal policy waivers have loosened application guidelines, extended eligibility periods, and made it easier for beneficiaries to use benefits. These changes have enhanced access to these public assistance programs. However, the economic fallout of the pandemic has increased demand for public assistance programs by 30 to 40 percent across states — a demand that has severely challenged the capacity of many resource constrained social service agencies.
This study examines how families have experienced these new policy changes, as well as, how county agencies have adapted to unprecedented demand and new ways of engaging clients (e.g. remote telework, new application guidelines, and extended eligibility deadlines).