Senate Passes Bipartisan Farm Bill, Setting Up Fight with the House
Last Thursday, the Senate passed their version of the farm bill by a vote of 86-11. The farm bill, which is under consideration every five years, authorizes agriculture subsidies and nutrition programs, including SNAP. The process has historically been bipartisan, balancing rural concerns with the need for robust nutrition support. Although WIC is authorized under separate legislation, changes to SNAP could have a significant impact on the families that we serve.
NWA applauds the Senate for continuing the bipartisan tradition of the farm bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) worked diligently with Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to craft a farm bill that drew widespread support from both parties. The Senate farm bill does not materially alter the structure of SNAP, in contrast to a highly partisan bill drafted by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX). The House bill passed by a narrow party-line vote in mid-June and included several controversial changes to SNAP, including harsher work requirements and limits to eligibility.
Both chambers must now appoint members to negotiate a final bill in the conference committee. It is unclear whether the two chambers will be able to resolve their differences, as House Republicans are insisting on pushing for structural changes to SNAP. Chairman Roberts has consistently stated that the House’s SNAP reforms could not pass the Senate, as Democratic votes are required for final passage.
Senate Committee Reviews Maternal and Infant Health Legislation
Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed two measures that seek to address maternal and infant health, including the high rates of mortality. The Maternal Health Accountability Act, a bipartisan measure championed by Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), supports statewide maternal mortality review committees, many of which have faced funding shortfalls or elimination as a result of recession-era state budget cuts. The PREEMIE Reauthorization Act renews investment in federal research and education programs focused on prematurity prevention. NWA applauds the Committee’s interest and increased investment in maternal and infant health.
Public Charge Regulation Still Under Review at White House OMB
Since late March, the draft regulation altering public charge rules for immigrant families has been under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. In early May, Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and a total of 85 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to OMB expressing their concern. On June 22, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responded to confirm that any policy change is still under review.
In their response, DHS confirmed that any policy change would afford the public an opportunity to comment. Should the Administration move forward with a public charge regulation, NWA will issue an alert and have template comments available to assist you. It is expected that any public comment period would be 60 days. As a reminder: the federal government wants to encourage public commenting on regulatory changes, as it needs input to assist with reasoned decision-making. Public commenting on regulatory changes is not lobbying, as federal lobbying laws only govern the legislative – not administrative – process.
Even though DHS has yet to formally propose a rules change, NWA is conscious of the chilling effect on immigrant participation in WIC. Please consider this resource (translated in Spanish and Chinese) to assist with questions from concerned participants.