NWA Elevates WIC in Child Nutrition Congressional Roundtable
Last Thursday, NWA’s President & CEO Douglas Greenaway participated in a roundtable on Capitol Hill to engage members of the House Education and Labor Committee in conversation around child nutrition issues. The bipartisan roundtable – sponsored by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC) – was an opportunity for members of Congress, including recently elected freshmen, to engage key child nutrition advocates about opportunities to improve and streamline programs like WIC. NWA was grateful to provide remarks at the roundtable and meet with members of the Committee at such a crucial time for child nutrition programs.
New Effort to Lower Federal Poverty Limit
Last week, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that it is reevaluating how the Federal Poverty Guidelines are calculated. The Guidelines, which have been in place for decades, are an essential tool in determining income eligibility across a variety of federal programs and benefits, including WIC.
OMB is specifically evaluating whether it should alter the metric used to calculate inflation over time. Should OMB elect to adopt a different metric, it may lead to the poverty level rising at a slower rate, leaving struggling families without access to vital supports and services and engendering greater confusion about eligibility limits.
This is the latest of several attempts to undermine the resources availability to families. NWA will continue to update members as OMB continues its deliberations and inform of any opportunities to weigh in on the process.
House Moves Forward on Appropriations
In the absence of a broader spending agreement, the House is moving forward with individual appropriations bills using temporary top-line numbers. The temporary House numbers are slightly higher than FY 2019 levels, anticipating a budget deal that will invest additional funding in non-defense discretionary programs. As a result, the House Agriculture Appropriations bill is allotted an additional $1.075 billion in discretionary spending.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee began consideration of several appropriations bills; however, an Agriculture Appropriations bill has not yet been presented for consideration. Most notably, the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill has moved forward with an additional $10 billion in discretionary investments for domestic programs.
The House-approved bills will still need to be reconciled with the Senate after a final budget agreement is reached. A budget deal remains elusive, especially as the White House has signaled that it would prefer a year-long continuing resolution in order to put off spending debates until after the 2020 elections. NWA will continue to update members as the negotiations continue and an Agriculture Appropriations bill is unveiled in the House.
House Committee to Consider Maternal Mortality Prevention
On Thursday, the House Committee on Ways and Means will consider strategies to prevent maternal mortality, specifically focusing on persistent racial disparities and efforts to address the social determinants of health. The United States currently has the highest rates of maternal deaths in the developed world, and black women are nearly four times as likely to die of birth complications as their white counterparts.
Previously, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) had reintroduced the Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act. The MOMMA Act takes steps to standardize data collection, enhance culturally competent care, and facilitate best practices in reducing maternal deaths. Most notably, the MOMMA Act will also expand postpartum coverage for women – including one-year eligibility for Medicaid and two-year eligibility for WIC. NWA has endorsed the MOMMA Act and is working to elevate its role in addressing the maternal mortality crisis.
House Committee Weighs National Paid Family Leave Policy
Last Wednesday, the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on paid family and medical leave. With momentum building on this issue in Congress, the hearing drew bipartisan praise as legislators grappled with a variety of proposals.
Most Democrats have coalesced around the FAMILY Act – sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The FAMILY Act would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave each year, funded through employee and employer contributions. This model builds upon state-level programs implemented in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Republican plans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) New Parents Act, have put forth voluntary paid family leave programs that would require employees to postpone claiming Social Security benefits. NWA has called for a comprehensive paid family leave plan that will support the needs of WIC mothers and has endorsed the FAMILY Act.
As Congress weighs competing proposals, states are continuing to push forward with their own plans. Last week, the New Hampshire legislature authorized a state-level paid family leave policy similar to the FAMILY Act. The plan was vetoed by Governor Chris Sununu (R-NH). Only six states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave policies
House Advances New Disaster Relief Bill
Last Friday, House Democrats advanced another attempt at providing disaster relief to states affected by hurricanes and flooding, including Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Nebraska. The bill is the latest attempt to move forward the process, which has been held up over White House opposition to increased support for Puerto Rico. 34 Republicans broke with the President to support the relief package.
House Democrats have prioritized disaster aid, and it was one of the first bills considered in the new Congress. Among other recovery needs, the bill advances funding for Puerto Rico’s block-grant Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP). NAP funding has been depleted for several months, with benefits reduced for thousands of families in need of nutrition assistance.
White House opposition has made negotiations in Congress quite difficult, and the Senate remains in a stalemate as legislators work to hammer out a compromise.
USDA Researchers Take Steps to Oppose Relocation Plan
For months, USDA has signaled that it intends to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) to a new location outside of the National Capital Region. Even after Congress held hearings and included report language that called for a halt to the move, Secretary Perdue is still moving forward – issuing a shortlist of location sites on May 3.
The proposed relocation – compounded with efforts to reduce the fields of research conducted by ERS – have led to attrition as researchers are leaving the federal agency. Now, ERS employees have voted to unionize in their latest attempt to prevent the relocation plan and maintain the integrity of the agency’s research.
ERS is the independent research agency primarily responsible for food security and nutrition research, as well as program evaluation for WIC, SNAP, and other nutrition programs. The nutrition portfolio is just one of many research focuses, including crop production, food safety, and trade. NWA has led other nutrition organizations in raising awareness about the value of ERS research and the harmful impacts of the relocation policy on the retention of researchers and the capacity of the agency to continue to conduct vital nutrition research.
New Proposal Would Limit Mixed-Status Families’ Access to Housing
Last Friday, the Administration issued a new proposed rule that restricts housing assistance to families with some immigrant members. Currently, housing benefits are limited to only citizens, but the government will prorate benefits to support citizens in mixed-status families. The new proposed rule would deem mixed-status families ineligible and increase verification on all families seeking assistance. Early estimates suggest that as many as 55,000 children could be evicted from their homes if this rule change was to take effect. The public comment period will remain open until July 9.