Use in grocery delivery has skyrocketed since the onset of the pandemic, but one group of people has been unable to partake in the convenience: pregnant women and young children who receive benefits from the state’s supplemental nutrition program.
That will soon change.
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch a grocery delivery service for all participants of the program known as WIC (Women, Infants and Children). WIC is an income-restricted program that provides supplemental food assistance to pregnant or postpartum women, infants and children under the age of 5.
DHHS officials went before the Interim Finance Committee on Wednesday to receive approval for $3.1 million in CARES Act funds to rapidly launch and support the program, which will be run in-house but will involve partnerships with nonprofits such as Three Square in Southern Nevada.
Candice McDaniel of DHHS told lawmakers that contracting with a third-party private company like Instacart that already offers home delivery would have been too time intensive because the back-end programs needed to accommodate the transfer of benefits don’t currently exist.
“To build that would take longer to fill an immediate need,” she added.
Despite enrollment in the program trending up amid widespread economic hardship, the rate of redemption — that is, people actually using their benefits — has dipped. They went from 67 percent to 53 percent in June.
McDaniel told lawmakers her department believes concerns about Covid-19 are keeping people from physically visiting grocery stores, which could lead to these vulnerable populations missing out on much-needed items like formula and milk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website that pregnant women with Covid-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and are at increased risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and needing a mechanical ventilator than nonpregnant women. From January to July there were 12,969 documented cases of pregnant women contracting Covid-19; 35 have died. “But much remains unknown,” the website notes.
Similarly, little is understood about the relationship between the virus and infants and young children. Studies suggest they fare better than other age groups if they contract the virus, but the uncertainty has troubled many parents into keeping their littlest quarantined.
Women who are quarantined at home because they have or were exposed to Covid-19 would also benefit. Currently, they have no option to use their benefits.
“A few gallons of milk may not seem like a big deal for some,” added McDaniel. “For a single mom who is struggling, that milk is incredibly important, and when they’re not wanting to take their kid to a grocery store, this is incredibly impactful to their lives and necessary.”
Approximately 58,000 Nevadans are enrolled in WIC monthly.
WIC is not the only safety-net program adapting to accommodate the unique challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, Nevada began participating in a federal pilot program that allows low-income individuals and families who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to purchase groceries online. The ability to pay online allowed recipients to take advantage of curbside pickup or home delivery options, though any related fees could not be paid using EBT. That program was limited to Amazon and Walmart; however state officials have said they hope to expand beyond those two retail giants.