Appropriations Negotiations Race to the Finish
Congress returns this week for a three-week session before adjourning for the holidays. With funding for the federal government set to expire on December 7, appropriators have been working to reach a compromise that would allow spending measures to move forward. Although five bipartisan appropriations bills were signed by President Trump in September, seven appropriations bills remain outstanding, including the Agriculture-FDA bill that governs WIC funding.
President Trump has previously threatened a government shutdown if the Homeland Security appropriations bill does not include adequate funding for his proposed border wall. The White House has suggested this might be the last opportunity to obtain such funding, as Democrats will control the House of Representatives next year. Nonetheless, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), who met with President Trump before Thanksgiving, has maintained that a shutdown will be avoided.
If a spending package is not approved by December 7, there will need to be another continuing resolution to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Two Weeks Left to Weigh in on Public Charge
The comment period on public charge is coming to a close in two weeks – on December 10. Nearly 84,000 individuals have already commented, and this is one of your last opportunities to weigh in on rules that could impact the WIC families that we serve.
The proposed rule would penalize immigrants if they access Medicaid, SNAP, or housing assistance programs. The heightened risk to an individual’s immigration status would continue to disincentivize eligible families from accessing any public benefit program, including WIC. Furthermore, there remains a risk that WIC participation could be included in the final rule. It is up to the WIC community to speak out now and protect the families that we serve!
NWA has prepared a number of resources to assist you, including template comments, guidelines for participants who may wish to comment, and FAQs about public charge. Please direct any questions about the comment process to Brian Dittmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asylum Families Turn to WIC for Support in Time of Need
Asylees are almost always allowed to enter the country while their case is adjudicated in the immigration system. WIC is a safe space and place of support for asylee families who may turn to WIC for assistance. Compassionately supporting the needs of WIC families, empathetically understanding each participant’s particular situation, and serving WIC families without judgment of their circumstances are hallmarks of WIC staff and the WIC experience.
The right to petition for asylum is a long-recognized principle of international law, affirmed by treaties and United Nations declarations. These international obligations are also enshrined in US federal law, which limits the authority of the president to undermine the right to petition for asylum. On November 8, President Trump issued an executive order restricting the right of those who entered the country without authorization to petition for asylum; however, a federal court has already halted the policy, claiming that the president lacks the authority to issue such a limitation on the right to petition for asylum.
Yesterday, federal authorities closed the border crossing at San Ysidro, California – the busiest port of entry along the US-Mexico border – in response to a protest by Central American migrants who are awaiting processing of their asylum applications. The Administration has introduced “metering” policies, deliberately slowing the pace of claims processing by US border agents. Heightened frustration with the changed policies among prospective asylees sparked a confrontation when some migrants attempted to cross the border during the protest. US border patrol agents responded by firing tear gas across the US-Mexico border at the assembled protesters, including many young children. The San Ysidro border crossing was re-opened last night.
Legislative Priorities of Congress’ Abbreviated Session
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, negotiators continued to hammer out a final compromise on the farm bill, which authorizes both SNAP and a wide array of agriculture programs. WIC is not included in the farm bill. The negotiations have been ongoing since June 2018, when the House and Senate passed starkly different bills, with the House’s version including contentious proposals to alter SNAP and expand burdensome work requirements on participants. In contrast, the bipartisan Senate bill passed by a margin of 86-11 and included no structural changes to SNAP. NWA will continue to support legislation that protects and strengthens SNAP, recognizing the vital role that the program plays in providing nutrition assistance.
Other than the farm bill, Congress is also hoping to consider a number of priorities in the abbreviated three-week session, including a criminal justice reform bill, an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and a slew of nominations, including the nomination of Scott Hutchins to be USDA’s undersecretary for research, education, and economics. Hutchins is the global head of integrated field sciences for Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont and also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska.
House Democratic Leadership Election this Week
On Wednesday, the House Democratic Caucus will meet to elect its leaders for the upcoming Congress. Although House Republicans and both Senate caucuses have already approved their leadership, House Democrats postponed their vote a few weeks to accommodate the large class of new members elected in the midterms. Current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to easily win the caucus’s endorsement for Speaker on Wednesday. A small group of House Democrats is still threatening to withhold their votes for Pelosi at the floor vote in January 2019, where Pelosi will have a smaller margin to secure a majority of the full House of Representatives. At least two former opponents of her Speakership – Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Brian Higgins (D-NY) – have since endorsed her.
Federal Report Warns of Climate Change Consequences
On Friday, the federal government released the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies, including USDA. The comprehensive, 1,600-page report warns of the environmental and economic consequences of climate change, specifically illustrating current manifestations of climate change, such as the California wildfires and declining water levels in the Colorado River basin.
The report includes some of the most robust economic cost analysis with respect to climate change, estimating over $500 billion in economic losses due to crop damage, lost labor, and extreme weather. The damage to agricultural output is quite significant, with expected declines over the next few decades in both crop production and the nutritional quality of crops. The report also echoes previous findings that climate change causes health consequences, including increased spread of diseases, more intense heat waves, and diminished air quality.
The last climate assessment was issued in 2014. That report helped inform the Obama Administration as it drafted new climate change regulations, including the Clean Power Plan that would limit emissions from coal-based power plants. NWA recently joined other public health organizations in objecting to the Trump Administration’s plans to reverse the Clean Power Plan, highlighting the impact of toxins and diminished air quality on pregnant women and young children.