It’s Critical to Comment Today on Plans to Alter the Federal Poverty Guidelines
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced last month a new plan to direct federal agencies to alter how the poverty level is calculated. This could lead to a change in the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which would affect participant eligibility for a wide range of federal programs, including WIC, Medicaid, and SNAP. OMB is proposing that a new measure be used to calculate inflation over time, which would lead to slower growth of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. As a result, fewer families would qualify for vital health and nutrition programs.
The comment period remains open until this Friday, June 21. NWA has prepared template comments to assist you in weighing in on this important issue. Reminder: Responding to public comments is not a lobbying activity.
House Considers Two Spending Packages, Including WIC Funding
This week, the House of Representatives will work on passing its first spending package, which includes four of the twelve appropriations bills. The measure contains nearly $1 trillion in funding, including larger appropriations bills like Defense and Labor-HHS-Education, which funds many domestic programs like Title V Maternal and Child Health programs.
Once the House passes the first spending package, it will consider a second measure that includes at least five additional appropriations bills, including Agriculture/FDA. The second package will include FY 2020 funding for WIC, including $6 billion in overall funding and a record $90 million for breastfeeding peer counselors. Should both spending measures pass, the House will have moved forward at least nine of the twelve appropriations bills. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) has indicated that he would like to pass all spending bills by the end of June.
The Senate has yet to begin consideration of appropriations bills, as Senate leadership awaits a bipartisan budget deal that will set overall spending numbers for FY 2020. The House bills are predicated on estimates and may have to be altered once an overall spending deal is reached with the White House.
USDA Announces Relocation of ERS and NIFA
Last Thursday, the USDA announced the relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City region. Staff from both agencies will be transitioned to their new assignments over a three-month period. The first 100 employees are set to be relocated no later than August 1, with the final group leaving on September 30. NWA has led the nutrition community in raising awareness about the harm to nutrition and food security research.
In FY 2019, Congress urged delay of the relocation proposal and requested a cost-benefit study to be conducted. As Secretary Perdue continued with the relocation over objections from Congress, the House included language in the FY 2020 Agriculture/FDA appropriations bill that would ban USDA from moving staff outside of the National Capital Region. While the Senate may include similar language, it is unlikely that an appropriations bill will pass in time to prevent the relocation. According to union representatives, many researchers have already left ERS and NIFA as a result of the relocation decision.
Congress Attempts to Restrict Implementation of Public Charge
The Department of Homeland Security is still weighing whether to issue the public charge regulation, which would further penalize immigrant families for lawfully accessing public assistance programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and housing subsidies. While WIC is not included in the proposed rule, the WIC community joined a chorus of other advocates in issuing over 266,000 public comments during the comment period in fall 2018.
Last Wednesday, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) reintroduced the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act, which would prohibit the use of federal funds to implement or carry out the proposed changes to public charge policy. The bill has significant support from other House Democrats, but is unlikely to move without similar support in the Senate.
The House Homeland Security Appropriations bill, which advanced out of committee last week, calls on DHS to rescind the proposed rule and blocks funding for implementation. The bill also encourages the expansion of the sensitive locations doctrine, which protects certain locations (i.e., hospitals and healthcare centers) from immigration enforcement actions. It is unclear whether similar provisions will be included in the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations bill.
This Week, Congress Spotlights Poverty and Nutrition Assistance
This week, two key committees in the House will host hearings focused on poverty repercussions. The House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations will host a hearing this Thursday, June 20, about the potential consequences of eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility for SNAP households. After a failed attempt by House Republicans to limit categorical eligibility in the 2018 farm bill, Secretary Perdue has indicated for several weeks that USDA is preparing a proposed rule. Likewise, the House Committee on Budget will host a hearing Wednesday, June 19 featuring national anti-poverty leader Rev. William Barber, to highlight the economic realities of struggling families.
Recent USDA Report on School Meals Nutrition Garners New Attention
In April 2019, USDA quietly released a study assessing the nutritional quality of school meals. The report indicated increased diet quality for both school breakfast and lunch seen to increase substantially for both school breakfast and lunch. The study noted improved diet quality for whole grains, while also finding greater participation in school meals programs with the highest healthy food standards. The report reflects positively on nutrition standards promulgated under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which sought to bring school meals closer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The new report, which champions improvements to school meals nutrition, was not publicly announced and contradicts USDA’s current position. In December 2018, USDA began rolling back the nutrition standards for school meals, particularly by weakening the whole grains and sodium requirements. USDA’s rulemaking is the subject of a lawsuit by nutrition groups.