NWA Raises Concerns with Proposed Food and Nutrition Service Regional Realignment
NWA sent a letter last week to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue expressing significant concerns with USDA efforts to realign certain state agencies to new Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Regional Offices. The proposed realignment of FNS Regional Offices, which are expected to go into effect in fiscal year 2020, would disrupt longstanding partnerships, including multi-state projects to administer MIS and EBT systems and state alliances for procurement. Notably, the shuffling of state agencies would also increase pressure on vital funding streams for several rural agencies, including a number of Indian Tribal Organization State Agencies (ITO-SAs). NWA is expecting to join Regional Administrators in a further conversation about the proposed realignment in the coming weeks. NWA will continue to update members as USDA continues to consider plans to reorganize state agencies within FNS.
Congress in Recess this Week
Both chambers of Congress are in recess in recognition of the Easter and Passover holidays. Members of Congress are expected to be in their districts for the remainder of the week, with legislative business resuming next Monday, April 29.
This is one of the best times to engage with your member of Congress! Contact the offices of your representative or senators to learn about district visits and events in your area. It is important for members of Congress to understand all that WIC does to improve the quality of life for their constituents because that knowledge will inform their willingness to support, fund, and promote the program in the future.
Note: Attending a constituent event and sharing the broad, positive impacts of WIC in a local community is not lobbying. Lobbying requires that you ask a legislator to take a specific position on a piece of legislation. Remember the simple rule: Bragging beats begging.
Senate Democrats Unveil Bill to Reduce Tax Burden on Low-Income Families
Two weeks ago, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Working Families Tax Relief Act, which would significantly expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), while also creating a new Young Child Tax Credit for children under age six. The economic improvements included in the bill are projected to reduce child poverty by 28% and lift at least 3 million children out of poverty. NWA joined over 80 national organizations in endorsing the legislation as a necessary step to strengthening family income and alleviating the effects of poverty on young children.
Maternal Mortality Prevention Legislation Reintroduced, Including Key WIC Priority
Two weeks ago, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL) re-introduced the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act (MOMMA Act), a comprehensive measure to address the crisis of maternal mortality in this country. The MOMMA Act implements a set of policies aimed at improving data collection, gathering information on effective interventions, and expanding health care and social services for postpartum women. The legislation would also create improved access to culturally competent trainings throughout the care delivery system.
Notably, the MOMMA Act extends postpartum coverage for women on WIC to two years, a vital step to reducing and identifying risk factors and improving inter-conception nutrition outcomes. NWA applauds the continued inclusion of this key priority in the MOMMA Act and joins 65 national organizations in endorsing the legislation as a necessary step to reducing the alarmingly high rates of maternal deaths and near-misses.
USDA Rolls Out Multi-State Pilot Project for SNAP Online Ordering
Last week, USDA launched a two-year pilot project that will enable SNAP participants to select and pay for groceries online with their EBT card. The pilot project will allow shoppers to obtain groceries through Amazon, Walmart, Shoprite, and other retailers. Starting in New York, the pilot will expand to other states, namely Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. USDA expects that integrating technological solutions into service delivery will enhance the participant experience and reduce stigma. NWA has advocated for similar pilot projects in the WIC program and will continue to update members on efforts by both government and retailers to embrace new technology.
ERS Researchers Aim to Unionize Ahead of Controversial Relocation
Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) are voting on May 9 on becoming a union. In addition to crop and agriculture research, ERS conducts studies into food security and nutrition, while also overseeing program evaluation for WIC, SNAP, and other child nutrition programs.
The move towards unionizing would allow USDA employees to legally challenge Secretary Perdue’s controversial plan to relocate over three-fourths of ERS positions outside the National Capital Region. USDA is expected to recommend a relocation site in mid-May, after narrowing bids down to one of 67 proposed locations.
Secretary Perdue first indicated interest in relocating ERS and another research agency – the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – in August 2018. The relocation was paired with a reorganization of ERS from USDA’s research division to the Office of the Chief Economist, a more political branch of the department under the Office of the Secretary. This move, along with others that undermine the integrity and independence of USDA research, jeopardizes the status of ERS as a federal statistical agency.
NWA has led the nutrition community in raising awareness about the detrimental impacts of the ERS relocation and reorganization on the integrity, independence, and capacity for nutrition research and WIC program evaluation. In January 2019, Congress sternly cautioned USDA against proceeding with its plans for relocation or reorganization. In March, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing that raised more concerns about the relocation. NWA will continue to work with policymakers to ensure that ERS continues to be equipped with the resources it needs to conduct thorough and independent research.
Census Citizenship Question Reaches the Supreme Court
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Department of Commerce v. New York, which will determine whether the 2020 Census is permitted to ask about citizenship status. In March 2018, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced his intention to include the citizenship question in the census for the first time in decades. In the current environment, the inclusion of a citizenship question would likely lead to an undercount as many immigrant participants fear reporting their status to a federal entity. A significant undercount would skew census data, affecting a wide range of studies and programs.
In August 2018, NWA urged the Commerce Department against including a citizenship question. The formula that determines the distribution of resources to different state WIC agencies relies on census projections, and the chilling effect of an undercount could lead to funding shortfalls in states with high immigrant populations and inadequate allocation of resources to the states. NWA will continue to update members on the effect of the Administration’s immigration policies on the census and WIC, especially as the Supreme Court issues its opinion, likely in early summer.
Supreme Court Hears Arguments about SNAP Retailer Data
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, a long-running challenge as to whether overall sales data from authorized SNAP vendors can be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For decades, FOIA has enabled citizens, advocacy groups, and journalists to hold government accountable for efficient administration of public resources.
The current dispute stems from a 2011 request from a South Dakota newspaper, which had hoped to identify revenue trends among retailers in the state. Retailer associations have long argued that such data is confidential and therefore exempted from FOIA requests, along the lines of trade secrets. Any decision about SNAP data is likely to have a ripple effect into the WIC space. Although arguments are held today, the Supreme Court is not expected to issue a decision until early summer.