National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

May 6, 2019

USDA Picks Finalists for ERS and NIFA Relocation Sites
Late last week, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the finalists of the expressions of interest for his controversial proposal to relocate USDA’s Econo Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Of the 136 parties in 35 states that submitted expressions of interest, Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina were the top three picks to relocate ERS and NIFA. Nearly 700 employees of both agencies will either be displaced or forced to relocate this year. Staff have reportedly been placed on a 120-day notice to move. Secretary Perdue stated that this short list of locations was the result of criteria including quality of life, costs, workforce, and logistics/infrastructure.

The proposed relocation of both ERS and NIFA will lead to decreasing access to national organizations as well as nutrition science leaders. Both ERS and NIFA provide key statistics and funding in areas of agriculture and food and nutrition.

House Appropriators to Mark Up Labor-HHS-Military Construction-Legislative Branch Bills
The full House Appropriations Committee, with Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), is scheduled to take markup action on May 8. It is reported that the committee will allocate its total funds of $1.295 trillion across all 12 appropriations bills. House appropriators are said to be allocating $631 billion, which is an increase of $34 million for NDD (non-defense discretionary) funding. (This does not count certain funds that will be taken outside the cap, therefore increasing the total amount).

Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and his Republican colleagues are holding on markup until a caps deal is reached. Senator Shelby has been meeting with President Trump to come to an agreement.

Last Tuesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-ED, Chairman Tom Cole (D-OK) marked up its fiscal year 2020 bill. The total discretionary spending for the departments and agencies under its jurisdiction was set at $189.8 billion, up $11.7 billion from FY 2019. Among the programs funded is the Child Care and Development Block Grant, which has increased by $2.4 billion, totaling out at $7.8 billion. Head Start has grown from $10.6 billion to $11.6 billion. Also Preschool Development Grants have risen from $250 million to $350 million. Job-training programs rose from $845.6 billion to $900 billion, and Century Community Learn Centers (after-school programs) rose from $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion. Refugee and Entrant Assistance was funded at $2.4 billion for FY 2020, which is an increase given it was at $1.9 billion back in FY 2019. Lastly, the National Institute of Health (NIH) received $41.1 billion, which is up $2 billion from FY 2019, and the CDC has received $25 million for firearm injury and mortality prevention research.

Tennessee asks Trump to Approve First Medicaid Block Grant
Tennessee will be the first state in the nation to ask the Trump administration for Medicaid funding in a lump sum. This is said to be a radical overhaul of the program, which many warn could force major cutbacks in health coverage for low-income people. Last Thursday, state Republican lawmakers approved legislation that would require Tennessee to submit a Medicaid block grant plan to the federal government within six months. Republican Governor Bill Lee is expected to sign the bill.

The Trump administration has for months been studying if it legally can allow states this leeway. If the administration chooses to allow block grants, Democratic lawmakers have sworn to fight back. Republicans have been long supportive of Medicaid block grants, arguing that states would be able to better manage their programs if the federal government gave set funding and greater freedom to implement benefit rules.

Currently in Tennessee, there are more than 1.3 million people enrolled in the Medicaid program, known as TennCare. The state is one of the 14 that has not joined Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion program for low-income adults. On average, the federal government covers about two-thirds of the Medicaid costs in Tennessee, while the state covers the remaining amount. Other states, such as Alaska and Utah, have considered Medicaid spending caps since President Trump took office, and those plans would have affected adults who received coverage through the Obamacare expansion.

Why is this relevant to WIC? Adjunctive eligibility is important in streamlining certification processes for WIC as well as a tool for reaching more eligible participants. Medicaid block grants could potentially inhibit qualified participants from enrolling in the WIC program, in turn decreasing caseload.

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar, WIC Champion, Dies
Most readers will have learned that the Hon. Richard G. Lugar, R-IN, died last week at the age of 87. What you may not know is that the senator who served this nation in the US Senate from 1977 to 2013 was among WIC’s most ardent champions in Congress.

Senator Lugar was most widely known for his foreign policy expertise and leadership. He strongly believed in bipartisan cooperation - a rare bird these days - in the US Senate. At the same time, it was absolutely the case that both as a member and Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee the senator had the WIC bug. He loved WIC and its important role in growing healthy babies and young children, and he was committed to enhancing and improving WIC services for America’s families.

Senator Lugar was a regular speaker at NWA’s Washington Leadership events as far back as 1992. WIC families and WIC staff owe much to the understanding, commitment, and support of Senator Lugar and his dedicated staff, especially NWA friends Dave Johnson, Esq., and Beth Johnson. We grieve their loss and our loss.

For his service and WIC championship, NWA recognized him with our Leadership Award. May he rest from his labors and in peace.