National WIC Association

Washington Update: Trump Administration Proposes Moving WIC to HHS, Imposing Work Requirements, and House Passes Partisan Farm Bill

June 21, 2018

Trump Administration Proposes Moving WIC to Department of Health and Human Services, Imposing Work Requirements on WIC

This afternoon, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a proposal to reform and reorganize federal agencies. One of OMB’s key recommendations is to move USDA’s non-commodity nutrition programs – including WIC, SNAP, CACFP, and FMNP (the Farmers Market Nutrition Program) – into the Department of Health and Human Services. This new department would then be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare. School meals and commodity/emergency nutrition programs would remain under USDA’s jurisdiction. If the proposal was to come into effect, WIC would no longer be organized under FNS, but rather HHS’s Administration for Children and Families.

The proposal also calls for the creation of a Council on Public Assistance, within the renamed Department of Health and Public Welfare, that would focus on standardizing requirements between all public assistance programs. One of the goals of this Council would be to impose uniform work requirements on public assistance programs, including WIC.

NWA strongly opposes this proposal, which would disrupt efficient program administration, diminish WIC’s crucial nutrition mission, and stigmatize participants. WIC’s primary goal is to ensure adequate nutrition and healthy food access for moms, babies, and young children. The program’s placement in USDA FNS reflects WIC’s nutrition focus, leading to fruitful partnerships with food producers and researchers. Should WIC be rolled into a broader public welfare division, the program’s specific public health nutrition purpose will be overlooked and its collaborations with agricultural partners will be made more difficult. OMB’s focus on means tested eligibility ignores WIC’s health and nutrition mission and goals of improving pregnancy and birth outcomes, and growing healthy children.

The Administration proposal’s consolidation of public assistance programs into a single department does not aid in programmatic efficiency. Instead, the proposal will result in weaker, less effective program implementation, putting WIC and other social safety net programs at risk of cuts and further attacks, and undermining 44 years of evidence-based WIC success.

The reorganization proposal is unlikely to be fully realized, as Congress must approve the changes. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has already declared the proposals dead on arrival. Nonetheless, some of the smaller-scale reforms could be implemented at the administrative level. NWA will continue to work with federal partners to protect the delivery of WIC services and will update members on new developments if any relevant reforms move forward.

House Passes Partisan Farm Bill

This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed the partisan Farm Bill, H.R. 2, that had previously failed in the same chamber, by a vote of 213-211. No Democrats voted for the bill.

NWA joins a host of partner organizations in the public health and nutrition fields in opposing the bill’s SNAP and nutrition education proposals. Specifically, the nutrition title of the bill:

  • Dilutes food dollars to benefit job training programs – Families will be left with fewer resources to put food on the table as the bill moves more SNAP funding over to workforce employment and training (E&T) programs. SNAP E&T programs do not necessarily lead to increased employment, and they certainly do not alleviate hunger. By diverting focus away from feeding those in need, these job training programs fail to address the root issue: there are not enough jobs in this country that pay a living wage.
  • Imposes stricter work requirements – USDA already grants several states waivers from the existing work requirements, but the farm bill would raise the age requirement to 59 and put harsher penalties on individuals who are unable to comply – including a three-year ban on SNAP participation.
  • Narrows categorical eligibility – Similar to adjunctive eligibility in WIC, categorical eligibility between SNAP and programs like TANF and SSI helps streamline application and enrollment processes. The bill would significantly undermine the provision, thus increasing administrative burden and denying people access to SNAP. Categorical eligibility particularly benefits children, older Americans, and individuals with disabilities.
  • Consolidates nutrition education programs – The farm bill would combine SNAP-Ed and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), undermining the targeted nutrition education priorities of the two different programs.
  • Restricts EBT resistance – The farm bill would jeopardize SNAP access for any participant who requests a replacement EBT card within a 12-month period.

NWA is supportive of the Senate farm bill, which contains a nutrition title developed in a fully bipartisan manner, and passed out of committee nearly unanimously. The Senate is due to consider the proposal on the floor this month. After Senate passage, the two bills will need to be conferenced. It is unclear what the timeline for a conference committee would be, or how the significant differences between the two nutrition titles might be resolved. NWA will continue to monitor the progress of the farm bill and provide updates to our members.