It is increasingly likely that Congress will not complete the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, the bill that funds the WIC Program, before the end of the fiscal year. As the legislative calendar slips away and Congress nears Summer Recess on Friday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-MD, characterized the apparent inertia as “We are filling time. We are treading water.” Once again, WIC stands to suffer the consequences of continuing funding uncertainty.
Senate leadership has conceded that negotiations on 2015 spending bills has stalled and so are making plans to negotiate a year-end omnibus spending bill in the fall. In the meantime, it is likely the House will introduce a continuing resolution (CR) in September that will fund programs until early December allowing time to negotiate an omnibus. The Senate’s action on a CR will likely follow the House. One thing is certain, the upshot of omnibus negotiations will pivot on the outcome of the mid-turn elections.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his anti-poverty plan last week. It notes that there are mechanisms in place in our current safety net that make it difficult for people to escape poverty and highlights that there is opportunity in a more coordinated, case management approach. Each family is different with different needs.
The plan goes on to propose opportunity grants, large grants to states that combine the funding of all anti-poverty programs. With these grants, states would have the discretion to determine how to coordinate programs and target resources to the programs it felt worked best in their states. These opportunity grants would be piloted by a few select states and are intended to be deficit neutral, meaning at this point funding would not be cut from the overall grant. In theory, it offers states the opportunity to get creative with delivering safety net programs. In practice, it could lead to large scale block granting of safety net programs like WIC and SNAP, and leave it up to each individual state to determine the resources that these programs should get. In some states, this could mean drastically cutting the WIC program.
The other unfortunate reality of consolidating programs into one large block grant is that over time those grants have historically been cut, leaving all the programs within that grant vulnerable to budget cuts. Given all of this, Democrats remain skeptical that this plan is little more than a budget cutting plan in disguise.