National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

April 29, 2019

New Caucus Shines Spotlight on Black Maternal Deaths
Due to the high maternal death rates among black women in the US, Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC) announced the creation of a Black Maternal Health Caucus. This comes with overwhelming support of at least 57 members of Congress, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC).

The rate of maternal deaths in the US is higher than any other developed country, with 26.4 deaths per 100,000 births. Meanwhile, black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related reasons than white women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 60% of these fatalities can be prevented. NWA currently has a task force called Maternal Mortality in WIC, chaired by Tonce Jackson, which examines current research regarding WIC participation and maternal mortality to identify best practices for addressing the issue, while analyzing methods to reduce the incidence of maternal mortality in WIC.

House Appropriators Expected to Release Their Fiscal Year 2020 Labor-HHS-Education Bill Today
House appropriators are expected to unveil their biggest domestic spending bill this week, with plans to release the fiscal year (FY) 2020 Labor-HHS-Education bill today. They plan to hold a subcommittee markup on Tuesday, April 30 at 4:00 PM (agriculture appropriations will follow). Leadership’s goal is to finish as much appropriations work as possible before the end of June. Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has been advocating for a generous allocation for the subcommittee, totaling $178.1 billion in discretionary funds in FY 2019.

House appropriators have not agreed yet on top-line allocations for all 12 subcommittees. Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY) has stated that she will stick with Budget Chair John Yarmuth’s (D-KY) proposal (H.R. 2021) for $733 billion in total defense funds. However, this budget cap never made it to the House floor without receiving pushback. Lowey will also need to determine how to distribute the $631 billion in nondefense funds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated she is willing and ready to cut deals with President Donald Trump and Republican leaders on traditional issues. Her hopes are to pass the appropriations bill in a bipartisan way. Pelosi is expecting to meet with the president as well as other congressional leaders tomorrow to speak on other items that could potentially advance before the start of the August recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that an early deal setting the defense and nondefense spending caps is imperative to progressing appropriations bills. The goal is to have as many bipartisan discussions as possible in the hopes of resolving all of the issues. NWA will continue to update its members on the appropriations process as more information becomes available.

USDA Research Divisions Scheduled to Move Despite Apprehensions
Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stated he is moving forward with plans to relocate both the Economic Research Service (ERS), as well as the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), out of downtown Washington, DC. This initiative, promoted by the secretary as cost-saving, comes with the great fear of wide-scale resignations among employees. Chris Hartley, acting administrator of ERS, has told research employees that they should be expecting reassignment letters come mid-May.

Hartley indicated that employees would have approximately 120 days to relocate their families and report for work at the new location. Currently, there are 68 towns and cities in negotiations to host the agency. ERS employees have decreased from 300 to 250, while NIFA employees have shrunk to nearly 200 employees since President Trump took office. The USDA’s inspector general is currently reviewing the proposal to determine whether Perdue has the authority to move theses offices. Congress, in the 2019 appropriations bill, directed the secretary’s office to hold off on this proposal, affirming advocates’ position that there is not enough justification for the move.

NWA has repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the detrimental impacts of ERS relocation and reorganization. WIC’s success relies in part upon nutrition research and program evaluation. Should the secretary’s proposal move forward, the integrity and capacity of nutrition research and program evaluation will be negatively impacted. NWA will continue its work with policy makers to ensure that ERS is fully equipped with the resources needed to conduct thorough research for the WIC program.

Nutritional Quality of USDA School Lunches are Increasing
Since 2010, The National School Lunch program has increased the nutritional quality of its meals by nearly 41%. This was largely in part due to the federal government changing nutrition standards. Research was conducted by the USDA in April 2019 taking a closer look at nutritional quality of school meals between 2014 and 2015. According to the study, 44% of school breakfast meals have also become healthier. For both school breakfast and lunch, it was found that there has been less concentration of refined grains and decreased sodium served. In addition, no significant association between healthier meals and costs was observed. This study has come at a time when lawmakers such as Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-K S ) are reauthorizing child nutrition programs. NWA is a strong advocate for school meals and is pleased to learn of the study results.

Medicaid and CHIP Enrollment Dropped since March 2017
Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) have seen a significant drop (3.7%) in enrollment since reaching a peak in March 2017. Researchers at Georgetown University found that nearly 861,000 individuals losing coverage were children, who are not receiving insurance through other means. In January of this year, the enrollment for both Medicaid and CHIP was around 72.4 million, a decline of 2.7 million from last year, according to data released by CMS. The researchers are still worried that even if half of the children who lost their Medicaid and CHIP insurance in 2018 were able to get coverage through their parent’s employer, there would still be more children who lost coverage compared to 2017. NWA recognizes that many WIC families rely on Medicaid and CHIP to obtain medical coverage.