Key WIC Priorities Included in Child Nutrition Reauthorization Hearing
Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the potential path forward for Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) expressed enthusiasm for pursuing a bipartisan reauthorization this year. USDA Acting Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps testified at the hearing and hailed the transition to EBT/e-WIC as a success for the program. Mr. Lipps encouraged the Committee to explore opportunities to streamline the program to improve customer service, and offered to work with the Committee to identify specific proposals.
The hearing explicitly touched on several key NWA priorities – including expanding child eligibility to age six, extending certification periods, and reducing barriers at certification. Two witnesses – DC-based pediatrician Dr. Olanrewaju Falusi and Ms. Lauren Waits of the Atlanta Community Food Bank – argued that these proposals would enhance WIC’s ability to retain participants and the program’s overall impact on child health and nutrition.
Chairman Roberts indicated that the Senate is likely to proceed with the legislation before the House. Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) of the House Education & Labor Committee has expressed interest in moving forward with Child Nutrition Reauthorization, and the House committee held a hearing in March.
House to Begin Drafting Appropriations Bills without Budget Deal
The House will move forward with drafting appropriations bills, even though Congress has yet to reach a deal on the overall budget numbers. This decision echoes an ambitious plan by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to approve all appropriations bills in June.
Congress must reach a budget deal by September 30 to avoid significant spending cuts. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, Congress must proactively set an overall budget number in order to avoid sequestration – a steep, automatic cut to both defense spending and non-defense programs, including Medicare. Since 2011, Congress has always voted to avoid sequester cuts and approve a higher budget total.
In the President’s Budget, the White House argued that the sequester cuts should only apply to non-defense spending, including a wide range of programs that improve health, nutrition, and economic security. Senate Republicans unveiled their own budget proposal in March that would apply sequester cuts to both defense and non-defense programs.
Last week, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) put forth a proposal that would enhance spending for both defense and non-defense programs. The compromise measure argued that there should be parity, or equal increases in the spending levels for both priorities. However, the proposal faced scrutiny from liberal Democrats, who instead pushed for equal overall funding between defense and non-defense programs. Several centrist Democrats also objected to increased spending levels.
Without broad-based support for Yarmuth’s proposal, House leadership has begun direct negotiations with the Senate to craft a bipartisan agreement. Any appropriations bills that are passed before a budget deal will have to be reconciled with the final budget numbers approved in the bipartisan deal. This may result in delays to the annual appropriations process, increasing the likelihood of a Continuing Resolution (CR) later this year.
Nutrition Groups File Lawsuit Opposing School Meals Nutrition Rollbacks
Last week, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Healthy School Food Maryland filed a federal lawsuit challenging a USDA rule that rolled back nutrition standards in school meals. A second lawsuit was also filed by New York and a coalition of other states.
Stronger nutrition standards in school meals were included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and the initial regulations were rolled out in 2012 under Secretary Vilsack. This new rule, issued in December 2018, delayed sodium reduction compliance targets for schools and eliminated the final target, which would have aligned school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The rule also weakened the whole grain-rich standard, requiring only half of grain-based foods to be whole grain-rich.
NWA will continue to update members on efforts to undermine the nutrition standards in federal programs, including school meals.