Tomorrow’s State of the Union to Set Tone for Funding Negotiations
On Tuesday, President Trump will deliver the annual State of the Union address amid continuing negotiations to avert another government shutdown when federal funding expires on February 15. The State of the Union address was delayed one week on account of the federal shutdown, yet it still provides the president with a significant platform in the midst of tense spending negotiations. Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, will deliver a response, with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra delivering a Spanish-language rebuttal.
The president is likely to echo his continued calls for a wall on the US-Mexico border, a key demand that has been met with significant opposition from Democrats and some Republicans. With the president standing by his demand, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) admitted that the possibility of a deal remains “slim.” As appropriators continue to negotiate a compromise agreement, the president has also toyed with declaring a national emergency to secure funding for his border wall. Congressional Republicans have pressured the White House against that strategy, which would likely draw legal action from congressional Democrats.
Should Congress fail to reach an agreement by February 15, the government will once again be partially shut down. Nine federal agencies, including USDA, remain without long-term funding, and Senate Republicans have shown no appetite for funding these agencies separately from the Department of Homeland Security. Therefore, USDA funding is reliant on Congress and the White House striking a deal on the border wall. NWA will continue to update members on the ongoing spending negotiations.
President’s FY 2020 Budget Delayed on Account of Shutdown
The president’s budget is traditionally released on the first Monday of February. Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) indicated that the fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget is delayed as a result of the government shutdown, which left many staffers furloughed. OMB is developing a revised timeline, but it is likely that a budget will not be released until at least March. White House National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow suggested that the president’s budget will include a 5 percent across-the-board cut, with other tough cuts included.
Congress is not required to adhere to the pPresident’s proposals, and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) signaled that Congress will proceed with budget negotiations in the absence of the president’s budget. Congress must reach several agreements before even beginning to consider FY 2020 appropriations. As a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress must lift the caps on the federal budget to avoid a sequester, or automatic cut of federal spending. The last budget caps deal, reached in February 2018, maintained parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The budget-caps negotiations could significantly impact the total available discretionary spending, which includes funding for USDA programs like WIC.
Congress must also lift the debt ceiling to avoid a credit default. Federal debt has been rising to historic levels, with the ratio of federal debt to gross domestic product (GDP) reaching approximately 78% in 2018. This trend was exacerbated by the Republican-authored 2017 tax bill, which is expected to add nearly $2 trillion in federal debt. Although Congress can authorize new borrowing, increased debt payments put additional strain on the federal budget and squeeze discretionary programs like WIC. The ballooning deficit also created an opening for some – like former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) – to pivot and then argue for cutting programs that benefit the health and economic security of low-income Americans.
There has been some indication that both the budget caps and debt ceiling could be tied to a broader spending package that also addresses the outstanding FY 2019 funding, but it is likely that these items will be considered in a separate spending deal later in the spring.
USDA Proposal Undermine SNAP’s Ability to Combat Food Insecurity
Last Friday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a proposed rule that would limit states’ flexibility to provide nutrition assistance to certain adults through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), particularly in times of economic distress. The proposed rule restricts state waivers of the time limit on SNAP participation by able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). Without a state waiver, these adults are limited to only three months of SNAP benefits in a 36-month period unless they satisfy a burdensome work requirement.
Last year, Congress explicitly rejected similar SNAP provisions when considering the farm bill. House Republicans championed several changes to SNAP, including stricter time limits on adults who could not meet onerous work requirements, but Senate Republicans did not embrace these provisions. The final farm bill passed by large bipartisan majorities in both chambers and did not contain any structural changes to SNAP. House Democrats have already expressed concern about the proposed rule, with Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) – chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations – explicitly calling for an extended comment period through June 2019.
The majority of states currently have a waiver for either the entire state or certain localities without sufficient employment opportunities, and even more states had waivers at the height of the Great Recession. State waivers of the ABAWD time limits are an essential tool as states address food insecurity and ensure that families, including prospective parents, receive adequate nutrition. Although the rule does not purport to interfere with a pregnant woman or child’s access to SNAP, children in informal family structures may still be affected by loss of the household’s access to food.
Unless Rep. Fudge’s request is granted, the rule is now open for only a 60-day comment period until April 2, 2019. Comments can be submitted directly through the Federal Register. NWA will release template comments in the next few weeks that will highlight arguments relevant to the WIC community. If you have any questions, please contact Brian Dittmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Utah Legislators Target Voter-Approved Medicaid Expansion
In November 2018, Utah was one of three states that voted to expand Medicaid coverage for non-pregnant adults. State legislators have now moved to restrict the ballot measure, moving a bill that would limit eligibility at a lower-income threshold, cap state spending, and impose work requirements on participants. The bill moved swiftly through the legislature last week, but the Utah State Senate delayed a vote on Friday amid strong pressure from supporters of the ballot initiative. Utah is one of 37 states that has enacted some form of Medicaid expansion for non-pregnant adults since the option was made available in the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
Administration Continues to Delay Efforts to Reunite Migrant Families
Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asserted that it will not take steps to identify and reunite migrant children who were separated from the families last year, promising only to identify children who were separated after a court order halting the child-separation policy was issued in June 2018. Many of these children have been placed with sponsor families, even though their parents may still be in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General also issued a report last week detailing significant abuses at contractor-operated detention facilities that house migrants petitioning for asylum or legal status. Some of the abuses included failure to notify government officials about sexual assaults and using tear gas instead of other approved products. NWA has previously expressed concern with the Administration’s plans to expand the detention of migrant children in unlicensed facilities given the possibility of abuse and neglect.