Administration Proposes New Rule to Permit Indefinite Detention of Migrant Children
Nearly 500 children - including at least 22 children under the age of five - remain separated from their families as a result of the Administration's detention policies. A federal judge ordered the Administration to reunite all the children with their parents by July 26. The National WIC Association joined a chorus of public health organizations condemning the child-separation policy first articulated in May 2018. NWA urges the Administration to correct this unjust policy while paying particular attention to the needs of the young children still in detention.
Even though the Administration failed to comply with a federal court order, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have now proposed a new regulation that would permit the government to detain migrant children indefinitely. The proposed rule – which is available for public comment – would reverse the decades-old settlement agreement in Flores v. Reno, which strictly limits the detention of migrant children.
The comment period remains open until early November, and the Administration could finalize the new rule by the end of the year. NWA will continue to update members on changes to immigration policy that implicate the well-being of young children.
Continuing Resolution Extending WIC Funding Likely as Spending Deadline Approaches
With only a handful of legislative days left before the September 30 fiscal deadline, Congress is moving forward with an ambitious plan to pass three omnibus appropriations bills. The first package - which includes the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction-VA spending bills - is due for a vote this week, but final negotiations are ongoing, leaving its fate uncertain. The second minibus package that is now being conferenced includes Agriculture-FDA, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, and Transportation-HUD spending. As a reminder, WIC funding falls under the Agriculture-FDA appropriations bill. The final spending package includes Defense and Labor-HHS, which were intentionally coupled to ensure support from both sides of the aisle.
Though Senators Leahy (D-VT), Schumer (D-NY), Shelby (R-AL), and McConnell (R-KY) are operating with an agreement to proceed with appropriations bills in a bipartisan manner and without "poison pill" riders, the task ahead of them is significant, and the time very short. The House, which has no such bipartisan deal, and the President, who has threatened to veto any spending package without border wall funding, both present obstacles to passing timely, bipartisan spending bills.
As such, the possibility of a shutdown beginning October 1 cannot be ruled out. The more likely, and favorable, scenario would be a continuing resolution (CR) to fund any areas not passed by the September 30 deadline. This CR would likely last until December - after the November midterm elections. This would set up a spending negotiation heading into the holidays, which could result in a second CR until after the new year. NWA will be closely monitoring this process over the coming weeks to determine whether WIC appropriations can be passed before the deadline, or will be wrapped up in a CR.
Congresswomen DeLauro and Sanchez to Introduce "WIC" Act
On Friday, September 14, Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) will announce the introduction of the Wise Investment in our Children (WIC) Act in the 115th Congress alongside NWA President and CEO Rev. Douglas Greenaway. The bill includes three changes to WIC to increase participation and facilitate access to the program: increasing the age of eligibility to six years for children, extending infant certification periods to two years, and expanding eligibility for postpartum moms to two years. NWA is working with both congressional offices and the Children's National Health System to host the launch at the WIC clinic at Children's National. Local NWA members are invited to attend the event.
USDA Announces Delay in ERS/NIFA Proposal while Senate Agriculture Committee Raises Questions
Last month, USDA announced a plan to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) outside the National Capital Region, and to realign ERS within USDA, moving them out of Research, Education, and Economics, and under the office of the Chief Economist. ERS plays a critical role in the evaluation of the WIC program; they currently have 12 ongoing WIC studies, and their WIC research experts participate in NWA's Research and Evaluation Committee.
NWA organized a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Perdue with 14 national nutrition-focused organizations opposing the proposed changes, which threaten to disrupt ERS's operations and compromise the independence of its research and analysis. NWA has also participated in meetings with key USDA and congressional leadership, where we have expressed these concerns.
As a result of the advocacy of NWA and its partners, USDA has announced a 30-day delay of its Expression of Interest (EOI); the initial opportunity for states to propose ideas for relocation of the agencies. On Friday, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) of the Senate Agriculture Committee sent a detailed letter to Secretary Perdue echoing the concerns NWA and partners have raised, and asking a series of questions about the rationale and details of the proposed changes. NWA is grateful to Senators Roberts and Stabenow for their leadership on this issue, and looks forward to reviewing the response from USDA.
Congresswoman Moore Sends Conference Letter in Support of WIC
NWA thanks Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI) for organizing a dear colleague letter in support of WIC appropriations to House and Senate appropriations leadership. As both chambers have now voted to conference the agriculture appropriations bill, it is critical to remind appropriators of the broad support for WIC. The letter reiterates NWA's request for $6.3 billion in budget authority for WIC, and full funding of set asides, including the breastfeeding peer counselor program. The letter was sent on Friday, September 7, with over 50 signatory members of the House of Representatives.
House Republicans Propose Second Round of Tax Reform
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is preparing to introduce three bills that will further alter tax policy. Chairman Brady’s proposals follow the Republican tax reform that passed narrowly last year. The new proposals are expected to permanently extend the individual tax cuts, which Republicans set to expire in 2025 because of their significant impact to the deficit, and revise tax structures around retirement savings.
The 2017 tax reforms ballooned the annual federal budget deficit, which is now expected to reach over $1 trillion in 2020. The rising deficit – which now totals over $21 trillion – has already led Republican leaders to call for cuts to social programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and food assistance programs. It is likely that further tax reforms – which are, once again, largely expected to benefit the wealthy – will draw strong opposition from Democrats, especially those concerned about the long-term stability of the federal budget and social programs.
Farm Bill Negotiations Continue
Last Wednesday, House and Senate Farm Bill conferees held their first official business meeting, in which members shared opening remarks. Negotiations, however, are largely being undertaken by staff for the four principals - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN). The primary area of difference between the House and Senate passed bills is the Nutrition Title, which includes the SNAP program. The principals have yet to achieve a compromise on this issue, and the deadline for reauthorization is running short. An "extenders" package will likely be needed to continue the bill's smaller programs that do not have a baseline after the September 30 deadline.
House Considers New Measures to Undermine ACA Employer Provisions
The House Rules Committee will consider a new bill from Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) - H.R. 3798 - this week that undermines provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).The ACA's employer mandate requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide affordable health insurance options for full-time employees or pay a fine as penalty for failure to comply. Currently, full-time employees are defined as working 30 hours per week, but the House bill would raise that definition to 40 hours per week.
This measure could eliminate the requirement for employers to provide health insurance for countless families in the United States, making it more difficult for women and children to get adequate healthcare. In addition, federal revenue would be reduced by approximately $26 billion over the next ten years.
The measure would also delay or repeal taxes that were passed by Congress to fund the ACA. The delay and repeal of these taxes will reduce revenue by approximately $18 billion over the next ten years and eliminate an important financial source for our healthcare system. This measure echoes repeated efforts by members of Congress and the Administration to undermine the long-term vitality of the ACA marketplaces and other elements of the landmark health insurance reform law. It is unlikely that this bill will move forward in this Congress, although it is highly likely that the next Congress will consider health insurance reforms after the November elections.