New Executive Order Pushes Work Requirements, Reviews Immigrant Eligibility
Last Tuesday, President Trump issued an executive order targeting public benefit programs. The executive order requires relevant federal departments (including USDA) to review programmatic regulations and submit a report to the White House identifying opportunities to strengthen work requirements and tighten eligibility criteria, particularly for immigrants. The executive order lays out a justification that is rooted in many misconceptions about poverty, taking aim at single mothers and declaring that public benefit programs create dependency on the federal government. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a statement echoing the White House’s language on dependency.
The executive order follows a USDA comment period seeking public input on how to “promote work” in SNAP, as well as the Administration’s grant of a waiver permitting work requirements in Kentucky's Medicaid program. Although the Administration is already signaling that SNAP and Medicaid are the primary focus of this executive order, other programs like WIC must be included in the reports to the White House. Alarmingly, both SNAP and Medicaid have stricter requirements on immigrant participation than WIC, and NWA is deeply concerned that the Administration – in the midst of drafting its long-rumored public charge rule – would seek new opportunities to limit immigrant eligibility.
Fortunately, WIC should not be implicated in future work requirement reforms given the program’s time-limited, efficient delivery of services to a targeted population, as well as innovative elements of WIC (like breastfeeding peer counselors) that promote self-sufficiency.
Partisan Farm Bill Introduced in House Agriculture Committee
Last Thursday, Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced the first version of the House farm bill. The farm bill is generally passed every five years to reauthorize both farm subsidies and certain nutrition programs, including SNAP. WIC is not included in the farm bill, as it is separately authorized through Child Nutrition Reauthorization (last attempted in 2016). However, the farm bill has implications for WIC participants, as we know that many WIC families also depend on SNAP to help feed their families.
This farm bill includes several harmful reforms that restrict access to SNAP by imposing harsher work requirements, limiting eligibility, and redirecting funding from food assistance to job training programs. For NWA’s full analysis of the House farm bill, please read our blog post from last Thursday.
Secretary Perdue suggested that the draft legislation last week aligned well with the farm bill principles he released earlier this year. Sec. Perdue has said in the past that he supports stricter work requirements and has made it clear that he believes SNAP should only be a temporary program for recipients.
The House Agriculture Committee will mark up the bill on Wednesday. While it is expected to clear the committee, it is unclear whether the bill has the votes to advance in the House, as it is not expected to garner any support from Democrats and the right-wing Freedom Caucus has historically opposed the farm subsidies that are a key element of the farm bill.
Even if the bill does pass on the House floor, the Senate’s farm bill is likely to look very different than the House version. Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Agriculture Committee, made it clear in a joint press release published last Thursday that they will work in a bipartisan effort on their version. A bipartisan farm bill is unlikely to include the harsh SNAP work requirements, cuts to food assistance, and attacks on SNAP eligibility present in the House bill.
FY 2019 Appropriations Process Continues in House and Senate
Appropriators will continue to work this week to establish funding levels for government programs in FY 2019. Last Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and Related Agencies (which sets funding for WIC) held a hearing to review the President’s budget request for USDA in 2019. Secretary Perdue, the chief witness at the hearing, discussed the administration’s priorities for agriculture programs in the coming fiscal year and said that USDA is committed to allocating enough funds for WIC to fully serve the expected participation level, a commitment the administration has made on several occasions in the past few months. NWA will continue to monitor the appropriations process and keep our members updated of any WIC funding news.
Trump Administration May Try to Rescind as Much as $60 billion from FY 2018 Omnibus
At the behest of President Trump, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney is developing a proposal to cut billions of dollars from the FY 2018 omnibus spending bill, which was signed into law in late March. The White House has not released any plans for which programs will be cut, though administration officials and congressional aides anticipate the rescissions will target foreign aid and nondiscretionary domestic programs.
Many Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate have called for the administration not to move forward with this plan, including House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), House Appropriations Committee member Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), and Senate Appropriations Committee member Susan Collins (R-ME).
Even so, the rescission package may have a chance to pass the House, as it is being championed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) - both potential successors to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is not seeking re-election. If it is able to pass the House, the measure would only need a 51 vote majority in the Senate. However, even 50 votes (with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote) may be difficult to garner in the Senate, where Republicans only hold 51 seats, and at least two Republican Senators seem opposed to the measure.
Balanced Budget Amendment Fails in the House
Last week, a proposed constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance the federal budget every year failed on the House floor by a vote of 233-184. NWA is grateful for all of the constituents who took action to urge their Representatives to oppose this bill, which, if passed, could have devastating consequences for domestic discretionary programs like WIC. However, even though the amendment failed in the House, it may still have a chance in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly wants to take up a balanced budget amendment, and it is expected that the Senate could vote on the legislation in early June. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds support in both chambers to advance, thus requiring support from Democrats.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to Leave Office in January
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced last Wednesday that he will not seek re-election and will therefore vacate his leadership of House Republicans in January 2019. His speakership lasted just over three years. With the Republican majority at stake in the 2018 midterm elections, it is unclear who will assume leadership over House Republicans in the next Congress. Ryan’s two deputies – House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise – are both rumored to desire the post.