Yesterday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee advanced the FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill. The bill will fund USDA programs for the coming fiscal year, including WIC. The House bill includes $6 billion in overall WIC funding, a slight decrease of $75 million from FY 2019 levels. Reflecting caseload decline and consistent with recent appropriations bills, the House bill rescinds $800 million in unspent food funds.
The bill included a record investment of $90 million in WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program, the first time that appropriators have fully funded the program since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. For nearly a decade, funding has been stagnant at $60 million. As a result, over 30% of local agencies remain without a peer counselor program, and existing peer counselor programs have either contracted their services or remain overextended. NWA applauds this critical investment in WIC peer counselors, a necessary step in expanding the program’s impact on improving breastfeeding rates.
NWA thanks Agriculture/FDA Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for their roles in advancing this legislation. In January, Chairman Bishop’s office met with a peer counselor from his district in southwestern Georgia as part of NWA’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Education Day.
The House bill also officially blocks USDA from relocating the Economic Research Service (ERS), the agency that oversees nutrition research and WIC program evaluation. In August 2018, Secretary Perdue announced plans to relocate ERS outside of the National Capital Region and has been soliciting bids in North Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri. In recognition of Secretary Perdue’s plans to reorganize ERS under the Office of the Secretary, the House bill also prohibits USDA from moving ERS outside of USDA’s research arm. NWA has led nutrition groups in raising awareness about the harmful impacts that these two changes would have on ERS and the integrity of its research.
The Agriculture Appropriations bill now advances to the House floor. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has prioritized passage of all twelve appropriations bills by the end of June, with five of the appropriations bills – Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, State and Foreign Operations, and Energy/Water – on the floor next week in a consolidated spending package. The Senate has not yet moved forward with any bills as Senate leadership continues bipartisan budget negotiations to determine overall spending levels.
WIC funding – including the additional investment in Breastfeeding Peer Counselors – is not finalized until Senate passage and White House approval. NWA will continue to advocate for robust funding of the WIC program and increased support for peer counselors. NWA will continue to update members as the budget and appropriations debate continues to unfold.