Despite convincing efforts from countless advocates, last week both the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and the full Senate Appropriations Committee passed their versions of the Agriculture Appropriations bill that included language mandating white potatoes into the WIC food packages. While not yet law, this does not bode well for WIC. The House bill next moves to the full committee.
The bills will eventually move to the House Senate floors for debate and amendment, but it is unlikely that the potato language will be removed during either stage of the process. With both bills containing WIC potato language, the final conferenced bill (the bill that reconciles the differences between the House and the Senate bills) will likely contain the language. In past years, language was included in the House bill, not the Senate bill. This allowed the opportunity to maintain the integrity of the WIC food packages through the conferencing process. This year, the potato issue is baked. The final glimmer of optimism to protect the science of the WIC food packages remains should the bill not become law. This could happen if Congress is unable to pass the bill out of the House and Senate and instead passes a long-term Continuing Resolution (CR) of current law or in the unlikely event the President vetoes the legislation.
The potato language in the House bill was included in Chairman Robert Aderholt’s (R-AL) base bill and was not able to be removed despite efforts by WIC champions, including Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The language was included in the Senate bill when an amendment offered by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was passed by an overwhelming voice vote with only Senator Harkin (D-IA) voting against the amendment.
This flies in the face of all the recent Op-Eds about the importance of keeping the WIC food packages science-based, not industry-based, written by prominent nutrition and health professionals and journalists, including former Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman (Clinton Administration) and Ann Veneman (GW Bush Administration) and former members of the Dietary Guidelines Committee 2010. The only Op-Eds favoring mandating potatoes into WIC came from Senators Collins and Mark Udall (D-CO). It also comes after NWA staff, members, and partners met with staff of Appropriations Committee members, sent national organization sign-on letters, sent a letter from over 650 health professionals, and made numerous calls. While we made our point loudly and clearly, our voices were shamefully disregarded, and instead Congress succumbed to the pressures and incentives of the potato lobby.
It is now important to express your disappointment with the actions of the Appropriations Committee to your members of Congress, so that they do not think they can get away with telling WIC what should be in the food packages, and so that they don’t repeat this with other foods.
Despite the potato trouble, the good news is that both the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bills fund WIC at a level in FY2015 that would meet all caseload needs, based on current data. Both bills fund WIC at $6.623 billion in FY 2015, $93 million below FY 2014’s allocation. The Senate bill provides the following unencumbered set aside funding: $60 million for breastfeeding peer counselors, $14 million for infrastructure, and $30 million for MIS.
The bill also includes an additional $25 million for the contingency fund, bringing the total fund to $150 million. Additionally, it calls for USDA to provide a report to the subcommittee on the policies, procedures, training and technical assistance it has provided to State WIC programs on income eligibility determination and verification since the release of the February 2013.
It also requests a report on low-mercury fish options to consider in the next round of IOM review. The House bill (subcommittee mark) provides the following unencumbered set asides: $60 million for breastfeeding peer counselors, $14 million for infrastructure, $30 million for MIS, and $25 million for EBT. On Thursday, the full House Appropriations Committee will mark up their bill, at which point we will have additional details about how WIC fares in the House. Stay tuned!