National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

March 18, 2019

Complete White House Budget Released
Last week, the White House released the outline of the president’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2020. This morning, the White House published additional appendices and documents that offer a complete picture of the president’s budget priorities. The staggered release process is unusual, as the president’s budget is typically unveiled as a unified document during the first week of February. The White House has indicated that the delay is due to this year’s government shutdown.

The president’s budget envisions $2.7 trillion in cuts to federal spending, including a 9% total cut across all non-defense discretionary programs. Meanwhile, the budget calls for investment in key White House priorities, including $8.6 billion for the wall along the US-Mexico border and an additional $750 billion in defense spending. The White House revives several contentious proposals, including the Harvest Box for SNAP participants; stricter work requirements for public benefits programs, including SNAP, Medicaid, and housing programs; and tightening categorical eligibility rules between SNAP and other child nutrition programs, like school meals.

Congress is not required to adopt the president’s budget, and appropriators have already signaled that they will instead craft a separate deal. Before the FY 2020 appropriations process can truly begin, legislators must first agree to lift the caps on federal spending under the Budget Control Act of 2011. If a deal is not reached by the end of the fiscal year, mandatory sequestration will result in drastic cuts to both defense spending and programs that benefit the health and well-being of families.

The last deal reached to lift the budget caps in February 2018 ensured a level of parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending. Therefore, the president’s budget, which significantly cuts non-defense programs while raising defense spending, is unlikely to move forward in Congress. NWA will continue to update members as the budget deal and FY 2020 appropriations move forward.

White House Budget Calls for Reduction in WIC Resources
In the full budget proposal, the White House calls for a 15% reduction in WIC funding from the FY 2019 appropriated levels. This is consistent with a 15% cut to all USDA funding, including over $17 billion in cuts to SNAP in FY 2020 alone. These reductions are on the higher end, as the president’s budget envisions a 9% cut to all non-defense discretionary programs.

In the initial outline, the White House proposes $5.8 billion in overall funding; the supplemental appendices, however, ask for $5.75 billion. The appendices also request a $1 billion rescission in unspent food funds – an unprecedented reduction in WIC resources. In contrast, Congress appropriated $6.075 billion in FY 2019, while rescinding $500 million in unspent food funds.

The budget maintains flat funding of the breastfeeding peer counselor set-aside at $60 million – continuing a decade-long trend – while also signaling a reduction in WIC research and program evaluation to $16 million.

Congress is not required to adopt the president’s recommendations. NWA is instead encouraging appropriators to fund WIC at $6.15 billion in FY 2020. NWA also advocates for higher set-aside funding, including for breastfeeding peer counselors ($90 million, the fully authorized level) and research and program evaluation (an increase to $25 million). NWA will continue to call for robust WIC funding as appropriators begin crafting funding bills for FY 2020.

White House Budget Targets USDA Nutrition Research
The additional budget documents also reiterate the US Department of Agriculture’s controversial proposal to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) outside the National Capital Region. ERS is the independent statistical agency within USDA that oversees the nutrition research and WIC program evaluation. The relocation efforts would have the effect of reducing ERS research staff, permitting the agency to realign research efforts away from nutrition and other core issues.

In August 2018, USDA announced two steps that would jeopardize the integrity of ERS research: the relocation outside the National Capital Region and a reorganization of ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist, which moves ERS out of USDA’s research arm and into a more political entity under the Office of the Secretary. In February, Congress expressed disapproval of USDA’s action, issuing report language that called for an “indefinite delay” of the reorganization. Congress also requested additional cost analysis and justification for the relocation of ERS outside the National Capital Region.

The president’s budget does not offer any new justifications for the relocation, instead reiterating prior arguments. NWA is actively working to inform policymakers about the ramifications of this proposal and will continue to update members on any steps that could affect WIC research efforts, especially as Congress weighs USDA’s latest response in the ERS relocation dispute.

Puerto Rico Cuts Nutrition Assistance as Congress Considers Aid Package
Congress has been considering an additional disaster-relief package for Puerto Rico over the past few months, but the protracted negotiations have reached a critical point. The island’s Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico (NAP) funds are reaching exhaustion levels, forcing Puerto Rico to reduce benefit issuance for nearly 680,000 individuals. Unlike WIC, Puerto Rico does not have a SNAP agency and instead has a separate block-grant program to address nutrition needs.

The House previously passed $14.2 billion in disaster assistance in January during the government shutdown. Key senators signaled that an additional relief package is imminent and will hopefully be passed by the end of the month. The final package is expected to be a bit more modest – one proposal contains $13.6 billion in aid – but should include an additional $600 million to support NAP and the island’s nutrition assistance program.

In late January, four staff members of the NWA office in Washington, DC, were in Puerto Rico to meet with state and local WIC staff. Among the topics of discussion with the WIC staff was the island’s and WIC clinics’ recovery from the hurricanes.

Administration Approves Ninth State to Impose Work Requirements on Medicaid Coverage
Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) approved a waiver to permit Ohio’s Medicaid program to impose work requirements as an eligibility requirement for medical coverage for low-income Americans. This is the ninth state to be granted a waiver for Medicaid work requirements in the past few months, although only Arkansas is currently implementing the work requirements.

In Arkansas, over 18,000 Medicaid recipients have lost their coverage, with an additional 6,000 individuals are at risk of losing their coverage in April as a result of failing to report their compliance with the new rules. There is a court challenge as to whether CMS has authority to grant these waivers, which advocates claim undermines the purpose and intent of the Medicaid program. In court arguments this week, a federal judge expressed skepticism that the work requirements are consistent with the program’s mission, and a decision is expected in the next few weeks.