After months of negotiations, five continuing resolutions, and two government shutdowns, the House of Representatives finally released the text of its FY 2018 omnibus spending bill last night. The $1.3 trillion spending bill would fund the government for the remaining six months of the fiscal year. The House passed the spending bill this afternoon by a vote of 256-167, with opposition from conservative Republicans and some Democrats. The Senate now has only one day to pass their version of the omnibus before tomorrow’s midnight deadline, when the current continuing resolution (CR) expires. If Congress is not able to agree on a longer-term omnibus bill or a short-term spending fix before tomorrow’s deadline, we will be facing our third government shutdown of the calendar year.
Despite being provided with $2.4 billion in additional budget authority for FY 2018 over FY 2017, appropriators elected to fund WIC at a lower topline number compared to FY 2017 (when WIC received $6.35 billion), and pair the lower topline number with a relatively high rescission amount ($800 million). Just as unfortunate, and despite their additional budget authority, appropriators failed to side with the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s marked bill (approved in committee in 2017) and fund breastfeeding peer counseling at the Senate’s level $80 million. Instead, $20 million was pared off the mark.
Omnibus Contains Adequate Funding for WIC to Meet Caseload Needs for Remainder of FY 2018
The omnibus bill funds WIC at $6.175 billion ($185 million off of NWA’s request and $175 million below FY 2017). It did, however, include $25 million in additional funds for the WIC contingency fund ($100 million below NWA’s request of $250 million) bringing the available contingency funds to $150 million. The omnibus provides a $60 million set-aside for breastfeeding peer counseling, and a $14 million set-aside for infrastructure.
The bill also includes a rescission of $800 million of unspent WIC funds. Although rescissions are not a normal aspect of WIC appropriations, this is the second rescission of its kind, and we may continue to see rescissions in WIC if there continues to be unspent WIC funds at the end of each fiscal year. In addition to the $6.175 billion in direct WIC funds, the omnibus bill also contains funding for the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) at the same level of last year—$18.5 million.
After all is said and done, this has left WIC’s net funding level for FY 2018 at $5.35 billion (compared to $5.5 billion in FY 2017).
Although these lower funding levels are concerning, in light of declining WIC caseloads and the likelihood of relatively stable food costs, it is highly likely that WIC’s net funding level will be adequate to meet caseload needs for the remaining six months of the fiscal year. Still, these funding reductions come at a time when agencies and clinics across the country continue to feel downward pressure on Nutrition Services and Administration (NSA) funding. While agencies are trying to make the most of limited resources, and the funding levels outlined in this omnibus bill will not improve WIC’s overall NSA funding situation.
Fishy Report Language
Beyond WIC funding provisions, the report language for the omnibus bill recognizes the work of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to make recommendations updating the WIC food packages to reflect current science and cultural preferences and urges USDA to consider the health and cultural benefits of fish consumption and to continue to allow states like Alaska to submit cultural food package proposals.
Omnibus Cuts SNAP, Strengthens Work Requirements
SNAP is affected more significantly by the omnibus than WIC, with a steep cut to its budget and a handful of policy changes that could affect participants’ ability to obtain SNAP benefits. The omnibus contains a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP compared to FY 2017, slashing the program’s total budget by nearly 6%. SNAP will now be funded at a total of $74 billion for FY 2018. Among the policy changes included in the bill is language that subjects SNAP funds to any “work registration or workfare requirements” required by law. This clause may be a nod to Farm Bill negotiators and could embolden states to pursue stricter work mandates than federally required through the USDA waiver process – a strategy that has been employed in both the SNAP and Medicaid contexts. Additional and burdensome work requirements are not an effective way to promote employment opportunities and serve the nefarious purpose of undermining participant eligibility and pushing otherwise eligible participants off of the program.
The omnibus does not include any funding for the so-called “Harvest Box” concept, although it should be noted that the Harvest Box proposal was made in the President’s Budget for FY 2019, not FY 2018. As Congress concludes the FY 2018 appropriations process and turns its eye toward FY 2019 and the farm bill, NWA will continue to monitor and speak out on further cuts or changes to SNAP, which will affect dually-enrolled WIC families and may lead to greater food insecurity in this country.