It involves people who get benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program.
Until Sept. 30, they’ll be able to get up to $35 per adult and child each month to buy canned, frozen or fresh fruits and vegetables.
That’s up from the normal allotment of $9 per child and $11 per woman in the program for the same products. The $490 million is a byproduct of American Rescue Plan funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to WIC state agencies.
"Some (states) may be participating, some may be not, but Illinois did jump in and the benefit is substantial," McLean County Health Department WIC coordinator Mary Colby said.
Colby said the increased allotment is likely part of a continued push to "ensure that our communities have access to as many healthy fruits and vegetables as possible."
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"As a result of the pandemic, as many as 30 million adults and 12 million children may not always have enough nutritious food to eat… These additional funds will increase the purchasing power of WIC participants so they can buy and consume more healthy fruits and vegetables," the USDA said in an announcement.
WIC participants will automatically be enrolled into the program, meaning the benefits will be loaded onto a WIC Electronic Benefit Transaction card for use at pre-approved stores.
The benefits don’t roll over from month to month, meaning those interested in getting the most out of their allotment will have to plan ahead.
"We’re really encouraging all of our nutritionists to work with participants if they’re concerned about using it and teach them how to not let that go to waste, how to spread their visits out to the store to buy fresh, and getting some canned or frozen vegetables for later," Colby said.
In McLean County, WIC enrollment is 113% over the 2,000 caseload allotment the department planned, for Colby said, but they’re still encouraging anyone with a low- to middle income who thinks they may be eligible to call the department with questions.
"It’s great — honestly we just try to see as many people as we can year to year," Colby said. "We never had a gap in services during COVID, which is pretty successful. The people that need our services are still getting our services."
Colby said she couldn’t definitively point to the pandemic and corresponding unemployment issues as a reason for the heightened enrollment, but said she believed "some of it was a factor."
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Contact Lyndsay Jones at (309) 820-3275. Follow her on Twitter: @__lyndsayjones
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