New Public Charge Resources Available
Since March 29, the draft public charge rule has been under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Leaked drafts indicate that, if approved, the rule would punish immigrants for accessing WIC and other public benefits on behalf of themselves or their family (including US citizen children). OMB is still accepting meetings from elected officials and advocacy groups, all of whom object to the significant ramifications that this rule would have on the health and economic security of local communities. NWA met with OMB last month to express our concerns, and we are hopeful that these meetings will delay publication of the proposed rule.
Members of Congress have also spoken out about the proposed changes. In fact, a delegation of 86 congressional representatives sent a letter in early May to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and OMB urging DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney not to advance the public charge rule. NWA is very grateful to Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), who spearheaded this effort, along with the 85 additional House members who signed on. If your Congressperson is on this list, we encourage you to thank them via phone call or Twitter for taking a stand to protect families who benefit from WIC and other vital public health programs. If using Twitter, you can use the hashtag #ProtectFamilies.
NWA has also put together talking points for agencies/partners. We encourage all agencies to report concerns and consequences of public charge (i.e., cancelled appointments, voluntary withdrawals from the program, attempts to return benefits, etc.) to this NWA survey. NWA will continue to monitor this potential rule and thanks every agency for their commitment to serving all WIC families.
Senate Appropriations Committee Passes FY 2019 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Including $6.15 Billion for WIC
Before leaving for Memorial Day recess, the Senate passed its FY 2019 agriculture appropriations bill, which will fund WIC for FY 2019, out of the full appropriations committee. The bill would provide $6.15 billion in overall budget authority, which represents a $25 million decrease in funding from the $6.175 billion appropriated for WIC in FY 2018. While NWA was advocating for $6.3 billion in budget authority, the Senate’s bill represents a smaller cut than what has been proposed in the House, which provided only $6.0 billion, a $175 million cut from WIC’s FY 2018 funding level.
The bill also provides a new set-aside for $5 million in infrastructure funds for “competitive grants to promote breastfeeding and improved nutritional health through technologies and services, including telemedicine.” The request was not made in consultation with the National WIC Association, nor was it requested by USDA in the President’s Budget. While mobile technologies are an important innovation in the WIC program, this funding was provided at the expense of the overall program budget, which was cut in the bill. This new set-aside will require USDA to set up a new competitive grant program, which will mean an additional administrative burden for Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) staff.
The breastfeeding peer counselor program was also flat-funded at $60 million in the Senate bill, even though the Senate had provided an additional $20 million for the program in their bill last year. Flat funding functions as a cut to the program, as it does not account for inflation. This will prevent breastfeeding peer counselor programs from being offered in all clinics that desire to offer them, and puts WIC in a position of having to find other sources of funding to cover the costs of breastfeeding peer counselors. NWA continues to work with breastfeeding peer counselors and advocates in North Carolina to convey the importance of the program to Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who has been the primary opponent of and barrier to increased funding.
The Senate’s bill rescinds $400 million from WIC, as compared to the $215 million included in the President’s Budget, and the House proposed rescission of $300 million. The bill will now move to the Senate floor, which Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) has indicated could come this month. The House has indicated it will move forward with other spending bills before considering agriculture appropriations. After appropriations bills pass both the full House and Senate chambers, a conference committee will be formed to reconcile differences between the bills. NWA will continue to advocate for full funding of WIC at $6.3 billion and full funding of set-asides, including $90 million for breastfeeding peer counselors.
Senate Farm Bill Anticipated, House Bill Fate Uncertain
Chairman Roberts (R-KS) has indicated that a markup of the Senate Farm Bill could come as soon as this Wednesday, with a full committee vote potentially following next Wednesday. The Senate bill is highly anticipated as a bipartisan alternative to the House Farm Bill proposal, which failed its first floor vote. The controversial House bill may receive a second vote between now and June 22 due to a procedural maneuver, but it is unclear whether Republican leadership will be able to secure enough support for the bill to pass at that time. The House Freedom Caucus had originally tried to use the Farm Bill as a bargaining chip to bring a vote on some conservative immigration proposals, but the caucus has now indicated that they would still not necessarily support the House bill, even after an immigration vote is allowed. NWA will continue to monitor the Farm Bill and provide updates to members.