Senate Voting on Farm Bill This Week After House Passage
The Senate is voting today to proceed with consideration of the farm bill, which reauthorizes SNAP and provides subsidies to farmers and food producers. The bill was developed in collaboration between Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill passed out of committee two weeks ago by a vote of 20-1, indicating broad support from both parties. If debate proceeds smoothly, a vote for final passage could be scheduled later this week.
The House approved their version of the farm bill last Thursday by a party-line vote of 213-211. The House bill was drafted after bipartisan negotiations broke down. No Democrats voted for the final bill, largely due to the bill’s detrimental reforms to SNAP. The changes to SNAP are not included in the Senate’s more bipartisan draft. NWA joined a host of partner organizations in the public health and nutrition fields in opposing the House bill’s radical SNAP proposals. Specifically, the House bill’s nutrition title:
Should the Senate approve their bill, the two drafts will be conferenced to develop final legislative text. It is unclear what the timeline for a conference committee would be or, more importantly, whether the two chambers would be able to resolve their different approaches to the nutrition title. Chairman Roberts has consistently emphasized that a bipartisan approach to the farm bill is necessary, because significant reforms to SNAP are unable to pass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. NWA will continue to monitor the progress of the farm bill and provide updates to members.
First Appropriations Package Moves Forward Without Agriculture Bill
The Senate is expected to vote today on the first appropriations package, or minibus. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is hoping to move several small appropriations vehicles through the Senate before the fiscal year deadline of September 30. The first minibus incorporates three separate appropriations bills: energy and water, military construction and the veterans’ administration, and legislative branch functions. Notably, this minibus does not include the agriculture appropriations bill – which includes funding for WIC – even though the agriculture appropriations bills have passed out of committee in both chambers of Congress. Given competing priorities and the Independence Day recess, it is unlikely that the Senate will proceed with a second appropriations minibus, which may or may not include the agriculture appropriations bill, until mid-July at the earliest. You can read NWA’s analyses of the House and Senate agriculture appropriations bills.
Immigration Votes Likely This Week After Executive Order Fails to Resolve Issues
Last Wednesday, the White House issued an executive order aimed at addressing the Administration’s policy of family separation at the border. The family separation policy – which had drawn condemnation from Republican leaders, the faith community, and world leaders – was part of a broader attempt to limit protections for asylum-seekers, in contravention of federal and international law.
The executive order ostensibly ends the policy of family separation by calling for family unity in detention – a departure from previous policy that had not involved detaining families. Existing law limits the ability of federal officials to detain children for longer than 20 days. The executive order problematically seeks to detain families, together, for an indefinite period of time. The executive order also offers no solution for the more than 3,700 children who had already been separated from their parents, although the Department of Health and Human Services created a task force to investigate family reunification.
Over the weekend, President Trump called for the deportation of families – including those seeking asylum – without any regard for due process. This is in direct contravention of the Constitution.
In light of the Administration’s misguided and unclear policy, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is hoping to move immigration legislation through Congress. However, Speaker Ryan postponed votes on Thursday after “compromise” legislation negotiated between hardliner and moderate Republicans lacked the requisite support.
It is likely that Speaker Ryan will move forward with additional immigration votes this week. NWA will continue to update members should any legislation move forward.
Trump Administration Proposes Moving WIC to Department of Health and Human Services, Imposing Work Requirements on WIC
Last Thursday, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a proposal to reform and reorganize federal agencies. One of OMB’s key recommendations is to move USDA’s non-commodity nutrition programs – including WIC, SNAP, CACFP, and FMNP (the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs) – into the Department of Health and Human Services. This new department would then be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare. School meals and commodity/emergency nutrition programs would remain under USDA’s jurisdiction. If the proposal was to come into effect, WIC would no longer be organized under FNS, but rather HHS’s Administration for Children and Families.
The proposal also calls for the creation of a Council on Public Assistance, within the renamed Department of Health and Public Welfare, that would focus on standardizing requirements among all public assistance programs. One of the goals of this Council would be to impose uniform work requirements on public assistance programs, including WIC.
NWA strongly opposes this proposal, which would disrupt efficient program administration, diminish WIC’s crucial nutrition mission, and stigmatize participants. WIC’s primary goal is to ensure adequate nutrition and healthy food access for moms, babies, and young children. The program’s placement in USDA FNS reflects WIC’s nutrition focus, leading to fruitful partnerships with food producers and researchers. Should WIC be rolled into a broader public welfare division, the program’s specific public health nutrition purpose will be overlooked and its collaborations with agricultural partners will be made more difficult. OMB’s focus on means-tested eligibility ignores WIC’s health and nutrition mission and goals of improving pregnancy and birth outcomes, and growing healthy children.
The Administration proposal’s consolidation of public assistance programs into a single department does not aid in programmatic efficiency. Instead, the proposal will result in weaker, less effective program implementation, putting WIC and other social safety net programs at risk of cuts and further attacks, and undermining 44 years of evidence-based WIC success.
The reorganization proposal is unlikely to be fully realized, as Congress must approve the changes. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, declared the proposals dead on arrival: "We're not doing that. We administer it better than HHS would do, and it dovetails right in to farmers, ranchers, and growers and hunger." Nonetheless, some of the smaller-scale reforms could be implemented at the administrative level. NWA will continue to work with federal partners to protect the delivery of WIC services and will update members on new developments if any relevant reforms move forward.