National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

April 1, 2019

Tomorrow is Last Day to Weigh in on Harmful SNAP Changes
In February, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a proposed rule that would punish unemployed adults and their access to the food safety net by restricting 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. The majority of states currently have a waiver for either the entire state or certain localities without sufficient employment opportunities, and nearly all states had waivers at the height of the Great Recession. State waivers of the ABAWD time limits are an essential tool to help states address food insecurity and ensure that families, including prospective parents, receive adequate nutrition.

NWA has prepared template comments to assist you in speaking out against proposed changes to SNAP access. Remember: Regulatory commenting is not a lobbying activity. Comments can be submitted directly through the Federal Register through tomorrow - April 2.

Continuing Resolution Seems Likely as Congress Weighs Timeline
Last week, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, expressed skepticism that funding bills will be completed by the September 30 deadline. Senator Shelby instead noted that Congress will likely rely on continuing resolutions to sustain funding as the House, Senate, and White House continue to negotiate spending levels into the fall.

Before Congress can even consider appropriations bills, leaders must first come to an agreement on the top budget numbers. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, federal spending is capped at a certain level unless Congress votes to proactively raise the budget caps. If a budget deal is not reached by September 30, overall federal spending will be significantly cut, reducing spending for both defense (by around 13%) and non-defense discretionary programs (by around 11%). As a non-defense discretionary program, WIC is funded out of the latter budget number. While Congress seems optimistic that a deal will be reached to raise the budget caps, the two parties differ sharply on the degree to which federal spending will increase.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that the House will start moving appropriations bills in June. As the budget caps negotiations are still ongoing, appropriations bills will be considered with tentative topline numbers, likely leading to significant differences between the House and Senate versions. NWA will continue to advocate for robust WIC funding in both chambers.

Congress Questions Relocation of USDA Research Agencies
Last week, the House Subcommittee on Agriculture Appropriations held a hearing about USDA’s plan to relocate two research and statistical agencies outside the National Capital Region. In August 2018, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue suddenly announced plans to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to new locations while also reorganizing ERS under the Office of the Chief Economist. In a rapid selection process, USDA narrowed the potential host sites down to 68 locations and is planning to make a final decision by May.

ERS conducts research and statistical analysis on a wide range of topics, including food security, nutrition, and program evaluation for WIC, SNAP, and other child nutrition programs. Congress expressed serious concern about USDA’s plans in the February 2019 appropriations bill, calling for a cost analysis for the relocation and demanding an “indefinite delay” in the plans to reorganize ERS outside USDA’s research arm.

At the hearing, committee members reiterated concerns that relocation would disrupt ongoing ERS research, threaten the independence and integrity of ERS research, and encourage significant staff turnover or even a reduction in staff. Notably, reduced staffing could impact the capacity of ERS to maintain its robust research areas, including continued emphasis on nutrition and nutrition programs. There are currently seven pending ERS studies related to WIC.

NWA continues to express opposition to Congress regarding relocation of ERS.

Justice Department Move Revives Healthcare Debate
Last week, the Department of Justice shifted its position and requested that a court invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The filing is related to ongoing litigation brought by several states to invalidate the ACA’s individual mandate for health insurance coverage as unconstitutional. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional under Congress’ tax authority. States now argue that the tax authority is not implicated, because congressional Republicans zeroed out the penalty in the 2017 tax law.

In December 2018, a district court judge accepted this theory and then took the unprecedented step of declaring the entire law invalid, including more popular provisions like the protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. With the case now on appeal before the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, the Department of Justice is now calling for the entire law to be deemed unconstitutional. This move has drawn bipartisan objection, including a stern letter from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

In taking this step, President Trump now urges congressional Republicans to revisit efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act with separate healthcare legislation. The White House is expected to release another set of healthcare “principles” today, which could guide ongoing discussions on Capitol Hill. It is unclear how receptive congressional Republicans will be to taking up healthcare after failed attempts to tackle the issue in 2017. House Democrats are expected to vote on a resolution this week condemning the Administration’s efforts to undermine the ACA.

Court Rules Against Work Requirements in Medicaid
Last week, a federal judge blocked state waivers in Arkansas and Kentucky that would place work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid. The court’s opinion largely concluded that efforts to monitor employment are inconsistent with the core purpose of Medicaid to provide health coverage to low-income Americans. The decision had an immediate effect, disrupting a hearing in the Idaho Senate on work requirements and eventually delaying plans to pursue a similar waiver in that state.

The waivers had drawn considerable scrutiny after implementation in Arkansas, where over 18,000 low-income adults lost their medical coverage as a result of the onerous reporting requirements. With last week’s approval of Utah’s waiver, the Administration has now approved ten state waivers, including work requirements on Medicaid recipients, although Arkansas is the only state to have actually implemented the new requirements.