Funding Debate Continues with Possibility of Shutdown
Parts of the federal government, including the Department of Agriculture, are currently running on a continuing resolution (CR) that is set to expire Friday evening at midnight, December 21. In order to avoid a partial government shutdown, Congress must pass, and the president must sign, a spending bill for the parts of the government currently under the CR. Legislators have the option of passing another continuing resolution, which may either be short-term, such as through January, or long-term, including the possibility of a year-long measure. They may also pass full appropriations bills, setting the funding level for the remainder of the fiscal year and delivering more certainty for government agencies and programs.
Currently, the debate has come to an impasse around the issue of funding for the southern border wall with Mexico. President Trump has requested funding at the level of $5 billion, and Democratic leaders have remained steadfast at a level of $1.6 billion and no higher. In a meeting between the president and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, President Trump stated that he would be “proud to shut down the government” over this issue. Conversations are expected to continue this week, with Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) indicating that, while shutdown is a possibility, there is still time to strike a deal.
WIC agencies are expected to have enough funds to continue normal operations for to two to three weeks in the event of a short-term shutdown. If your agency has any concerns about maintaining operations in a shutdown, please contact Brian Dittmeier at email@example.com and Ali Hard at firstname.lastname@example.org. NWA will continue to closely monitor the situation and will provide updates to members.
Farm Bill Passes, Awaits President’s Signature
Last week, both the House and Senate passed the conference report of the 2018 Farm Bill (H.R. 2), sending the bill to the president for his signature. President Trump is anticipated to sign the bill into law in the near future. NWA thanks congressional leaders for passing a bipartisan bill that protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP works hand-in-hand with the WIC program to help families access the nutritious foods they need. The bill also contains several important provisions for health equity, including changes to facilitate enrollment in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) for seniors, and reductions in the administrative burden for Indian and Tribal Organizations implementing the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). To read more of NWA’s analysis of the farm bill, see our press statement here.
At the same time, anti-hunger advocates are concerned that USDA will release a proposed rule to limit states’ ability to serve certain able-bodied adults without dependents on the SNAP program, something the farm bill did not do. Some anticipate that USDA may unveil the proposed rule at the same time that the president signs the farm bill into law.
Congress Passes Maternal Mortality & Premature Birth Legislation
Congress passed both the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act and the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act into law this week.
The PREEMIE Reauthorization Act includes several provisions to research and prevent preterm births and infant mortality. It also renews the Centers for Disease Control’s research on preterm births and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) activities to prevent preterm births, extends the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality, and establishes an entity at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to coordinate federal activities around preterm births and infant mortality.
The Preventing Maternal Deaths Act (H.R. 1318) would provide funding for state maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs).
The final step will be for the president to sign the bills into law. NWA has supported both of these bills, which align with the work of the association’s task forces on infant and maternal mortality. We look forward to working with the CDC to ensure that WIC is included in state MMRCs now that they will be authorized and funded.
Public Charge Comment Period Ends
Last week, the 60-day comment period for public charge came to an end. Over 216,000 individuals submitted comments on the proposal, and thousands more are still expected to be processed. Less than 10% of the comments have been fully processed, yet already hundreds of comments specifically mention that WIC should be excluded from this rule. A sampling:
The Department of Homeland Security must now review all of the comments and consider revisions before proceeding with the rulemaking process. NWA is encouraged by the outpouring of concern about this proposal. Thank you to each and every WIC voice that participated in the comment process and spoke up on behalf of WIC!
Young Girl Dies in US Custody
Last week, US Customs and Border Protection revealed that a seven-year-old girl had died of dehydration and shock while in federal custody at the US-Mexico border. Although the agency asserts that the child had access to water, the child went eight hours without being treated or examined. The Department of Homeland Security has announced an investigation into this particular incident.
NWA has previously raised concerns about the detention of young children by immigration officials. There have been repeated claims of neglect in detention facilities, particularly of a child’s nutritional needs. For decades, federal policy under the Flores decision required that children be released from detention and into the community as quickly as possible – in part, to ensure the nutritional needs of the child are met by family members. However, the Trump Administration has been trying to change that policy and permit prolonged detention of young children. The Department of Homeland Security is still in the process of reviewing comments on this policy change.
Texas Court Rules Affordable Care Act Unconstitutional
Last week, a federal court in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional and sought to nullify the entire law. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, expanded healthcare access for individuals both on Medicaid and in the private marketplace. Pregnant women, in particular, benefitted from the ACA due to increased access to comprehensive health coverage, including prenatal and postpartum services.
Prior challenges to the ACA revolved around the constitutionality of the “individual mandate,” a provision that requires everyone to obtain health insurance or pay a fine. In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional under Congress’ tax authority. Last year, congressional Republicans zeroed out the financial penalty for noncompliance with the individual mandate. As a result, the Texas court has now ruled that the individual mandate is not a tax and struck down the entire law.
Defenders of the ACA will likely pursue an appeal of the ruling, which would be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Therefore, this court decision will not have an immediate impact on healthcare policy. However, both the White House and congressional leadership have already pointed to the decision in an attempt to frame new healthcare debates in the 116 th Congress.
Outgoing Wisconsin, Michigan Governors Sign Controversial Bills
Last week, outgoing Republican governors in Wisconsin and Michigan signed controversial measures to undermine their elected Democratic successors. The new legislation specifically targets several policies that benefit WIC families, including access to nutrition-assistance programs and paid family leave.
In Wisconsin, outgoing Governor Scott Walker (R) signed measures that will require the new administration, led by Governor-Elect Tony Evers (D), to seek approval from the Republican-led state legislature to change state rules for public-benefit programs. These provisions are particularly targeted at preserving state plans to impose strict work requirements and drug screening on SNAP recipients. Gov. Walker signed the bills over widespread protests and opposition from former Republican Governor Scott McCallum.
In Michigan, outgoing Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation that significantly watered down a minimum wage hike and paid family-leave policy. The new law creates an exemption for paid family leave that would benefit 162,000 businesses that collectively employ over 1 million workers. The paid family-leave policy had been endorsed by a citizens’ petition that had garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Currently, only ten states require private employers to provide paid sick leave.