National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

February 11, 2019

Negotiations Falter One Week Before Shutdown Deadline
The continuing resolution authorizing funding for nine federal departments, including USDA, expires on Friday at midnight. Over the weekend, appropriators continued negotiating details of a homeland security spending package to reach a deal that would satisfy both the president's demand for a border wall and the steadfast opposition from nearly all Democrats and some Republicans in Congress. If legislators do not reach an agreement by Friday, the government will enter another partial shutdown. To avoid such a result, the White House and key appropriators have signaled that they would be open to another continuing resolution to sustain government funding while negotiations on the border wall continue.

Over the weekend, a new debate erupted over interior enforcement, or arrests of undocumented immigrants within the borders of the United States. Democratic negotiators argue that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has exceeded its budget and delegated authority in detaining so many immigrants, leading ICE to use funding from other sources to provision an adequate amount of beds in detention facilities. As a result, Democratic negotiators are calling for a cap on detention beds, which would compel ICE agents to prioritize enforcement activities and release immigrants who pose no danger.

Senate appropriators had been hopeful to reach a deal by the end of Monday, to move legislation swiftly through the chamber's lengthy procedures. With the president speaking in El Paso later today, it is unclear whether negotiators will reach an agreement in time to meet the Friday spending deadline. However, with all parties demonstrating an openness to another continuing resolution, there is ample opportunity to avoid another shutdown, which would have significant effects on programs like WIC that remain unfunded as a byproduct of the spending dispute. NWA will continue to update members on the status of spending negotiations and the likelihood of another government shutdown.

House Passes Breastfeeding Legislation
Last week, the House passed H.R. 866, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act. Sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the legislation would require public buildings owned or leased by the federal government to make lactation suites available for use by visiting nursing mothers. Under current federal law, only federal employees have access to lactation suites in public buildings. This legislation passed the House in the last Congress but was unable to obtain Senate approval. NWA applauds this step forward in addressing the needs of nursing mothers and calls for swift passage of this common-sense legislation.

New Bill Would Protect Immigrant Families in WIC Clinics
Last week, four House Democrats reintroduced H.R. 1101, the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act. The legislation would codify and expand current Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy that limits immigration enforcement activities at "sensitive locations." The current policy identifies schools, hospitals, places of worship, and demonstrations as sensitive locations, but this legislation would expand that definition to explicitly include public assistance offices, including WIC clinics. NWA has heard reports from several states indicating ICE activity outside WIC clinics, which deters participants from accessing vital nutrition and breastfeeding services. NWA is encouraged by this step to strengthen the sensitive locations protections and ensure that all eligible participants are welcome to access WIC services. The legislation is sponsored by Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Jose Serrano (D-NY), and Don Beyer (D-VA).

Puerto Rico Could be Facing Food-Aid Cuts
About 1.4 million Puerto Rico residents will face deep cuts in food assistance or lose it entirely next month unless President Trump and Congress provide more funding for the territory’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP), which is Puerto Rico’s version of SNAP. Last week, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a study that announced that the program needs more funding. “The funding shortfall reflects Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle to recover from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and María, as well as larger structural problems with NAP’s financing that policymakers eventually should fix,” wrote CBPP in its release of the study.

We encourage you to contact your senators to urge them to provide more funding for Puerto Rico’s NAP in the final FY 2019 funding agreement. This is especially important if you are from the following states:

  • Alabama: Please call Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Florida: Please call Senators Rick Scott (R-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), member of Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Maine: Please call Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), member of Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Tennessee: Please call Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), member of Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Kansas: Please call Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), member of Senate Appropriations Committee and chair of Senate Agriculture Committee

You can look up their office phone numbers online or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected with their office.

Please note: This is a lobbying action. As a reminder, it is your democratic right to lobby. Lobbying is a particular type of advocacy involving an attempt to influence specific legislation by communicating directly with an elected official or his or her staff. Each state has specific laws for state employees about lobbying efforts while on the job. We recommend limiting lobbying efforts to coffee breaks, lunch breaks, after hours and other times not considered “work time.”

In late January, four members of NWA’s staff from Washington, DC, were in Puerto Rico to meet with WIC staff there as part of a series of gatherings with WIC staff in various parts of the country. NWA staff met with staff of WIC clinics from across the island in two separate meetings that included presentations and discussions. NWA staff heard from WIC staff about general challenges in their work and specific challenges following the hurricanes that hit the territory in 2017. To learn more, see the two blog posts (January 25 post | February 4 post) about the visit.

State Medicaid Expansion Hits Delays in Utah, Idaho
In 2018, three states voted to enact Medicaid expansion - an option made available under the Affordable Care Act to extend Medicaid coverage to non-pregnant adults without dependents. In response to Utah's successful referendum, the state legislature advanced a version of expansion that would limit eligibility at a lower-income threshold, cap state spending, and impose work requirements on Medicaid participants. Activists criticized the legislature for adopting a plan that stands in contrast to the ballot measure's broad call for full expansion, with analysts estimating that approximately 50,000 fewer people would be able to obtain healthcare coverage under the legislature's plan. In Idaho, the state Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to Medicaid expansion, and activists warned the legislature against any similar efforts to limit or cap the expansion. Medicaid expansion has helped millions of non-pregnant adults obtain healthcare coverage, and Utah and Idaho now join a total of 37 states that have already or are in the process of enacting some form of Medicaid expansion.