Congress on Recess Until Next Week
After the passage of an omnibus spending bill that funds the government through September 30, both chambers of Congress have recessed for two weeks. Congress plans to resume legislative business on the week of April 9.
House Farm Bill Negotiations Collapse Amid Partisan SNAP Fight
Bipartisan negotiations to craft a farm bill collapsed in the House over the past two weeks amid increased partisan tensions on the House Agriculture Committee. SNAP authorization is a core element of the farm bill – accounting for about 80% of farm bill costs and serving as a key condition for urban lawmakers to back the bill’s generous subsidies for farms and agriculture.
Conservative Republicans have clamored to use the farm bill process as a means to push controversial SNAP reforms – ranging from work requirements and income limits to the much-derided Harvest Box. Amid this rhetoric, Agriculture Committee Democrats were unanimously disturbed when House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) refused to share the proposed farm bill’s provisions, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) ceased further negotiations until Congressman Conaway shares the draft language with other Democrats on the Agriculture Committee. It is unclear whether Chairman Conaway will seek to restart negotiations or instead proceed with an explicitly partisan farm bill.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has since affirmed his commitment to a bipartisan farm bill and is planning to introduce proposed language in the next few weeks. Senate Republicans must win Democratic votes to pass a farm bill, given their slim majority (51-49) in the Senate and the chamber’s filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for passage.
WIC is not authorized by the farm bill and is not expected to be debated in the farm bill process. Congress is unlikely to reauthorize WIC or resume negotiations on Child Nutrition Reauthorization until the farm bill process is complete.
Washington Post Publishes New Leaked Draft of DHS Public Charge Rule
Last week, the Washington Post published a new leaked draft of the long-rumored Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on public charge and immigrant use of benefit programs. If this rule were to be proposed and approved, an immigrant’s use of WIC and/or other benefit programs would affect that immigrant’s ability to obtain a visa, green card, or legal permanent residency.
The new leak has some changes from the earlier reporting in February. Most notably, Head Start is no longer listed as a program to be considered in public charge determinations. Unfortunately, the treatment of school meals is now unclear, as the latest draft removes its express exemption from public charge rules. The draft is subject to change before it is formally proposed, which the Administration is expected to do in July 2018.
Until this draft regulation is posted for comment and goes through a comment period, the rule will not be finalized. This means the public charge test currently remains unaltered from its historically narrow definition. However, the leaked draft suggests that DHS is further along in the process of developing a proposed rule. In fact, the draft regulation was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last Thursday. This is an important early step in the rulemaking process. Nonetheless, in the absence of a final rule, WIC clinics should reassure immigrant families that the latest leak does not change WIC policy.
After the leaked NPRM on February 8, NWA prepared this FAQ document for WIC clinic staff and participants. A Spanish translation is also available. NWA will continue to update members if and when DHS moves to formally propose this rule.
Trump Administration Adds Citizenship Question to 2020 Census
The Trump Administration announced last Monday that a question about US citizenship will be added to the 2020 Census. The Administration claims that adding the question will help enforcement of voting rights. Experts on the Census agree, however, that this new question will not help in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, and will certainly hurt the Census process in a number of ways.
The largest issue with adding a question around citizenship is that fewer immigrants will respond to the Census survey (out of fear for how the government will use this information), thereby making the count less accurate. Having an accurate count for the Census is extremely important, as it helps to ensure that each state has fair representation in Congress, districts are drawn fairly within states, and federal funding is allocated appropriately for government programs like WIC and Medicaid. In other words, states with high immigrant populations are bound to lose out on crucial government funding if this question remains in the Census. In addition, by suppressing initial responses and forcing the bureau to follow up with worried households as best it can, this question would likely trigger new costs and administrative burden for the Census Bureau.
There has been widespread alarm and opposition to the Administration’s decision to add this question, including from members of Congress representing both parties, former Census directors, former Attorneys General, the statistical community, the business community, and human rights organizations. In fact, at least 12 states have signaled that they will sue the Administration to block the addition of this question to the Census, arguing that the change is unconstitutional and would cause fewer Americans to be counted. NWA will continue to monitor this issue and will keep our members informed of any updates or ways that you can take action.