New WIC Legislation Would Enhance Community Health
Last Wednesday, Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Community Access to Resources and Education (CARE) for Families Act. Reps. Adams and Underwood are the co-chairs of the newly formed Black Maternal Health Caucus, and Rep. Scott is chairman of the House Education & Labor Committee, which oversees WIC policy.
The CARE for Families Act would create $15 million in new funding to support WIC local agency projects to collaborate with healthcare providers and other social services to enhance referral networks and ensure greater access to health services. Enhanced community health partnerships are an important step in addressing persistent health disparities, including the high rates of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.
NWA has endorsed the CARE for Families Act and worked closely with legislative staff to move this proposal forward. Thirty other public health and early childhood groups have likewise endorsed the legislation.
House Continues to Move Forward FY 2020 Appropriations
This week, the House of Representatives will consider a consolidated spending package that includes five appropriations bills: Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch, State and Foreign Operations, and Energy/Water. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has suggested that the House will pass all twelve appropriations bills by the end of June. WIC funding, which is included in the Agriculture/FDA bill, will likely be included in a second spending package that will be considered in the coming weeks.
Last week, the Agriculture/FDA bill advanced out of the House Appropriations Committee. The bill included $6 billion in overall WIC funding, including a record investment of $90 million in the Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program – the first time that the peer counselor program has received its fully authorized funding. NWA worked closely with Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to help make the $90 million investment a reality.
While the House is moving forward with funding bills, Senate appropriators continue to pause awaiting a bipartisan deal on the budget caps. Senate Republican leaders will be meeting with the White House this week in another attempt to renew the negotiations that will determine overall spending levels. Bipartisan agreement is needed by September 30 to avoid automatic cuts to domestic and defense programs. White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Acting OMB Director Russ Vought remain opposed to allowing increased spending for domestic discretionary spending. Democrats remain opposed to a deal without increased domestic discretionary spending.
Legislators Press FNS for Answers on Public Charge, Regional Offices
Last week, Acting Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps appeared before the House Education & Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights & Human Services, which oversees WIC policy. The hearing addressed the rollback of school meals nutrition standards, recent efforts to limit access to SNAP, and several questions about WIC and child nutrition programs.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), the chairman of the full House Education & Labor Committee, and Rep. David Trone (D-MD) both raised the pending public charge proposal, which would penalize immigrant families for accessing Medicaid, SNAP, or housing subsidies. The proposed rule itself admits that these changes to immigration policy will lead to negative health outcomes, including for pregnant women, infants, and young children. Mr. Lipps clarified that the proposed rule does not affect child nutrition programs and emphasized a need to provide clear information to program recipients about continuing eligibility. The proposed rule remains under review at the Department of Homeland Security.
Chairman Scott also noted WIC’s role in addressing maternal and infant mortality, with the United States facing significantly higher rates of deaths than other industrialized nations. Mr. Lipps praised WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counseling Program and referrals to additional health services as part of the broader public health response to maternal and infant mortality.
Finally, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) pressed Mr. Lipps on the proposed realignment of WIC state agencies within FNS Regional Offices, particularly noting the impact on OA funding. Mr. Lipps indicated that FNS will consult with state WIC agencies to work out any issues before implementation.
ERS Relocation Plans Continue to Draw Scrutiny in Congress
Secretary Perdue’s plans to relocate two research agencies outside of the National Capital Region continues to draw concern and opposition from Congress. Last week, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Gary Peters (D-MI) sent a list of detailed questions to Secretary Perdue seeking additional information on the plans to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS), which oversees independent research and analysis of nutrition, food security, and WIC program evaluation. Their questions specifically flag the need for continued research on nutrition issues, a necessary concern as the relocation plan calls for a reduction in overall research focuses. NWA has played a leading role within the nutrition community in raising awareness of the impacts of the ERS relocation.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed the Agriculture/FDA Appropriations bill, which included specific language prohibiting the ERS relocation and reorganization. The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research also held a hearing on the proposed relocation – the second such hearing after the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee reviewed the issue in March 2019. Last week’s hearing reiterated longstanding concerns that the relocation is not justified and would be disruptive to ongoing research. Last month, USDA announced three finalist sites in Indiana, Kansas/Missouri, and North Carolina, and a final decision from USDA is expected before the Agriculture/FDA Appropriations bill can pass into law.