The Trump Administration released its FY 2019 Budget, entitled Efficient, Effective, Accountable: An American Budget, at 11:30am Eastern Time today. The $4.4 trillion budget would slash mandatory and discretionary spending on domestic programs while dramatically boosting spending on the military and immigration enforcement.
The budget calls for a topline funding level of $5.75 billion for WIC to serve all projected participants in FY 2019. The $5.75 billion would be coupled with a $215 million rescission of unspent funds, leaving WIC with a net funding level of $5.54 billion in FY 2019. While this topline funding level is significantly less than what was appropriated for WIC in FY 2017 ($6.35 billion) and what we expect WIC to receive in FY 2018 ($6.15 billion), it is likely to be sufficient to meet projected caseload needs in FY 2019. This is largely because food costs have remained relatively stable, cost containment strategies have helped reduce program costs, rebates are among their highest levels, and WIC participation continues to decline. Administration officials predict that WIC participation will drop to 6.9 million participants per month in FY 2019.
NWA does not know with certainty the rationale for the budget’s caseload projection. While the economy has continued its steady overall improvement since 2008 helping to improve overall household economic outlook and circumstances, it remains likely that the hostile social and political environment, as well as the rhetoric and actions from the administration targeting immigrants to the US, continue to put downward pressure on WIC participation. Officials also predict that food costs will go up slightly in FY 2019 ($42.80 per person per month vs. $41.60 per person per month in FY 2018). This could offset any savings as a result of caseload declines, putting upward pressure on funding.
WIC set-asides in the budget include $60 million for breastfeeding peer counselors, $13.6 million for infrastructure, and $5 million for program evaluation and monitoring. While breastfeeding peer counseling and infrastructure would receive the same amount in FY 2019 that they are set to receive in FY 2018, program evaluation and monitoring is facing a $10 million cut. The cut to program evaluation and monitoring could reflect the Administration’s broader attempts to limit funding for scientific research. NWA will continue to advocate for full authorized funding of $90 million for breastfeeding peer counselors and $25 million in enhanced program research and evaluation funding.
Even though WIC will likely be able to meet caseload needs under this budget plan, other programs that WIC families depend on would face drastic funding cuts and structural changes. One component of the President’s budget that is of particular concern to NWA is the proposal to significantly cut and restructure the SNAP program. The budget proposal includes cuts to SNAP amounting to $213.5 billion over ten years. For families receiving $90 or more per month in SNAP benefits, the budget proposes decreasing EBT benefits and replacing a portion of them with a standardized box of healthy foods, including shelf-stable milk; ready to eat cereals; pasta; peanut butter; beans; and canned fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish.
While NWA endorses efforts to support SNAP families in making healthy choices, removing choice by providing pre-boxed, delivered food packages is not productive. This flies in the face of personal responsibility. We are concerned about the feasibility and impact of this dramatic restructuring of the SNAP program. NWA is concerned that without the combination of targeted nutrition counseling and education provided by programs like WIC, such a targeted food package may not have the intended effect of improving diets, and may instead create significant waste. Further, without a nutrition prescription tailored to each family, a standardized food package may not meet the individual nutritional needs of the family, failing to accommodate medical conditions and allergies, and religious and cultural food needs. These cuts and structural changes would inevitably lead to families losing access to SNAP benefits, which could in term lead to changes in WIC participation.
It’s important to keep in mind that the President’s budget is a blueprint for federal spending, and does not set actual spending levels for government agencies. Decisions on spending levels are ultimately up to the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate, members of which will spend the next few months crafting their FY 2019 spending bills.
NWA will make our case for enhanced funding for WIC in a number of priority areas and will look to our membership to weigh in with Members of Congress as the process unfolds. We will keep you updated on the budget and appropriations process and the implications for WIC funding in FY 2019.