NWA Secures $14 Million for WIC Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands
This morning, Congress passed legislation that appropriated $90 billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. This legislation includes NWA’s requested $14 million in infrastructure funding for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. These grants will assist our WIC state agencies with much-needed repairs to building infrastructure and technology systems that were damaged as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our thoughts remain with the communities damaged by natural disasters and NWA hopes that these funds will deliver quick relief to WIC clinics, staff, and participants in the affected regions.
Congress Passes Fifth CR to End Brief Shutdown Forced by Sen. Rand Paul
Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) this morning to fund the government through March 23, concluding an hours-long shutdown that occurred after funding lapsed at midnight. This is the fifth temporary fix since the fiscal year began on October 1, 2017; however, Congressional leadership is optimistic that the next few weeks will yield a long-term omnibus spending agreement that will provide funding for the remainder of FY 2018. The CR includes several priorities agreed upon by Congressional leadership, including a two-year raise of the budget caps for both defense and domestic spending. In addition, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was extended for a total of ten years, community health centers were extended for two years, and the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) was extended for five years. The CR was attached to a larger two-year budget deal which also included the aforementioned $90 billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Although Senate leaders agreed to the two-year budget deal earlier this week, they did not allot sufficient time to consider the bill before the Thursday midnight deadline. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) successfully delayed the vote and instigated a temporary government shutdown over his opposition to raising the budget caps and his desire for more attention to be paid to the federal deficit. This position is puzzling, given Sen. Paul’s vote in December 2017 to authorize $1.4 trillion in tax cuts for corporations and the already wealthy. The Senate ultimately voted on the CR in the wee hours of Friday morning, passing the legislation by a vote of 71-28. The House of Representatives voted on the legislation at 5:30am on Friday morning, with a vote of 240-186. Many Democrats, especially House Democrats, opposed the legislation given insufficient commitment by Republican leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), to bring bipartisan immigration legislation up for a vote.
The President signed the final agreement on Friday morning, thus ending a shutdown that lasted for less than ten hours. Nonetheless, the uncertainty and confusion affected the operations of federal government programs. Short-term solutions like CRs leave federal agencies unable to commit to long-term planning and affect the perceptions and trust of program participants. NWA will continue to update members on the evolving spending negotiations as Congress hopefully reaches a longer-term agreement in March.
Leaked Department of Homeland Security Documents Suggest New Efforts to Target Immigrants in WIC, CHIP, Other Programs
The press has published leaked documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that suggest the Department will attempt to rewrite regulations to dramatically expand the public charge standard for inadmissibility. Public charge determinations permit the government to deny legal status to immigrants – and thus, deport individuals – if they are determined to use public resources. Historically, this has been an incredibly narrow standard, limited to cash assistance and certain other programs like long-term institutionalization under Medicaid. Nonetheless, the Trump Administration has long signaled that it intends to rework this definition to include other public assistance programs, and a leaked executive order in January 2017 had a profound chilling effect on programs that immigrants are legally entitled to use.
According to the leaked Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), DHS intends to include WIC in this definition. Other programs – such as SNAP, CHIP, the ACA health insurance subsidies, Section 8 housing assistance, and Head Start – are also included in the administration’s new definition. Congress has legally authorized immigrants to use certain public assistance programs to address public health, nutrition, and housing needs. The leaked NPRM is an attempt by the administration to circumvent Congressional action and disincentivize immigrants from obtaining the health care or nutrition assistance that they need to meet a basic standard of living.
If this rule was to be adopted, certain immigrants’ use of WIC could be a factor that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers as weighted against granting legal status – including a green card. The leaked NPRM suggests that DHS will not consider past use of WIC or other public assistance programs if the immigrant ceases participation in the program at the effective date of the regulations. As the regulations have not yet been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or subject to public commenting procedures, immigrants are not yet at risk of being labeled a public charge. NWA anticipates that the rule will be formally proposed in either the spring or summer of 2018, and NWA intends to formally comment and oppose the inclusion of WIC in public charge determinations. Once the rule is proposed, it remains to be seen if and when it would actually go into effect. NWA will continue to update members on this proposed rule and how it will affect immigrant participation in WIC and other programs.