Congress on Recess
Congress is on recess this week, and will return to Capitol Hill next Monday, May 7.
FY 2019 Appropriations Process Continues
FY 2019 appropriations negotiations are now in full swing. On the House side, Republican leaders are proposing to bring small batches of appropriations bills to the floor, starting with non-controversial bills, rather than relying on a last-minute 12-bill omnibus. Republican appropriators in the House hope to pass all 12 bills before September 30, and expect the bills to be largely partisan, as they do not need votes from Democrats to pass the bills.
However, when appropriations bills are taken up by the Senate, votes from Democrats are needed. Spending bills require 60 yes votes for passage, and Republicans hold a very slim majority in that chamber (51-49). For that reason, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have signaled that they will work together on appropriations bills in a bipartisan fashion.
USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and Related Agencies (which sets funding for WIC) on April 18 to lay out the President’s budget request for this subcommittee. During this hearing, appropriators pushed back against the administration’s call for cuts to SNAP as well as its proposal to introduce a SNAP “Harvest Box”.
Farm Bill Passes out of Committee, Waiting on Floor Vote
On April 18, less than one week after its introduction by Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), the House Farm Bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee with a strict party-line vote. Before voting to advance the bill, the committee passed 15 amendments, all offered by Republican committee members. Democrats, under the leadership of Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-MN), did not offer any amendments.
For a recap of previous developments on the Farm Bill, and a summary of NWA’s concerns with the legislation, please refer to our most recent Legislative Update here.
The bill will now proceed to the House floor for a vote, likely the week of May 14, where it is expected to pass with a similar party-line vote. Chairman Conaway indicated last week that he may invoke a debate rule that would prevent members from offering amendments to the bill if they do not intend to vote affirmatively on the final measure. Democratic members of the House Rules Committee, led by Ranking Member Jim McGovern (D-MA), who is also the Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee, wrote a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) asking him to reject such a debate provision. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made a formal statement of support for the bill.
Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee remain committed to introducing a bipartisan Farm Bill proposal, although their timeline is unclear. Time is running short for congressional action, as the focus is now shifting to passing appropriations legislation before election season begins in the fall. NWA will continue to track the Farm Bill’s progress through Congress and will keep our members apprised of relevant developments.
Public Charge Rule Yet to Be Published by OMB
As we reported a few weeks ago, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent its draft public charge rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Under this proposed rule, 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. OMB has yet to publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), but it is expected that it will be published within the next few weeks. Once this happens, there will be a comment period (likely 60 days), after which DHS will review comments and issue a final rule. As a reminder, until the rule is finalized, the public charge test remains unaltered from its historically narrow definition, and WIC clinics should reassure immigrant families that the rule being sent to OMB does not change WIC policy.
Two weeks ago, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, DC, issued a statement criticizing DHS’s public charge rule. Cato’s criticisms center on the negative economic impacts the rule would have: As immigrants have a net positive impact on our economy, by blocking and creating barriers to legal immigration to the US, this rule would cost the US a significant amount of money in the long term. NWA is grateful for the Cato Institute’s opposition to this rule, as these criticisms should resonate with conservative decision-makers who may have otherwise supported this rule. However, it should be noted that Cato’s ultimate conclusion is, “If Congress wants to prevent immigrants from using any welfare at all, it should amend the law to reflect that goal.” The Cato Institute is more interested in protecting the economy than in ensuring that vulnerable residents have access to nutrition and public health benefits. While we agree with some of the criticisms outlined in this piece, we wholeheartedly disagree with Cato’s call for a “strict no-welfare rule.” We believe that immigrant families (many of whom include US citizen children) should not be barred from receiving crucial medical and nutrition support – for economic, moral, and public health reasons.
In that vein, NWA has been working diligently over the past few months to oppose DHS’s rule. Our efforts have included working with our friends in Congress, collaborating with national immigration and public health organizations, and pushing out accurate information about the issue to our members and various other audiences. NWA has also been crafting our organizational comments that we will submit to DHS once the NPRM is published by OMB. When this happens, we will provide model comments (as well as guidance and support) to you so that you can submit your own comments to DHS. Please be on the lookout for these model comments.