Congressional Schedule: Members of Congress are currently on recess until after the November 8th election.
Appropriations Update: Before leaving for recess last week, Congress was able to pass a spending measure to fund the federal government through early December. The House approved a 10-week continuing resolution (CR) last Wednesday night, by a vote of 342-85, and President Obama has signed the bill into law. The House vote followed the CR’s passage in the Senate Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 77-21. The bill’s passage narrowly staved off a federal government shutdown, as the deadline for passage was last Friday, September 30. The CR extends current government funding levels until early December minus a 0.5% across-the-board cut (as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act). It also provides $1.1 billion to combat the Zika virus and $500 million in emergency flood relief for Louisiana and other states.
WIC is funded at $6.32 billion for the period of the CR.
The CR was able to garner support from Democrats after House Republicans agreed to address the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan through another piece of legislation, the House Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA. WRDA, which was also passed last Wednesday, includes $170 million in Flint relief. The Senate water projects bill also contains funding for Flint relief, at a level of $220 million. The Senate and House bills will be reconciled during a House-Senate conference after the recess.
Congress’s biggest task following the election recess will be to negotiate 11 appropriations measures to fund government agencies and programs, including WIC, for the remainder of FY 2017. Instead of grouping all of the appropriations measures together into one “omnibus” bill, it expected that Republican leaders will opt for two or more so-called "minibuses." No decisions have been made on how many "minibus" spending bills will be used to set funding for FY 2017.
Congress has passed only one FY 2017 appropriations bill so far—the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which sets funding for WIC, has yet to be passed.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization Update: The Senate Agriculture Committee's bipartisan Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, S. 3136 has not advanced beyond the “hotline” process that began Thursday, September 15th. When a bill is hot-lined, the legislation is shared with all members and objections are sought under a very tight timeline. If no objections arise, the bill goes to the floor for a fast unanimous consent vote.
Objections were raised to S. 3136 among Senate Democrats, and therefore the bill has not made it to the floor for a vote.
One group that has actively called for further negotiations on the child nutrition bill is the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union. NEA has said it has serious concerns about the bill's proposed changes to the way schools verify eligibility for free and reduced-cost meals, saying that these changes could inadvertently kick eligible students out of the national school lunch and breakfast programs and create a greater burden for school administrators.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) made clear when they advanced the bill in January that they wanted to ensure a low program error rate without forcing out any eligible children.
The NEA's position puts it at odds with not only the Senate Agriculture Committee, but also a large coalition of nutrition, anti-hunger and faith-based groups, including the National WIC Association, that are calling for swift passage of the bill. While many in the nutrition and anti-hunger community remain uneasy about the verification changes, we still generally support moving the legislation forward and know the committee has been working to address our concerns.
The objections raised by Senate Democrats, which have halted the progress of the bill, could stem from NEA's concerns, but also could be the result of concerns from other Democrats and/or external political dynamics.
NEA, whose food service workers make up about 2% of its membership, supports many other aspects of the bill, including expanded access to summer meals and the nutrition standards. But the group does not consider current law to be harmful enough to warrant rushing forward with its reauthorization.