Last Day to Submit Comments on SNAP, School Meals Access
Today is the final day to speak out against USDA's proposed rule to undermine broad-based categorical eligibility, which enhances access to SNAP and the school meals programs. USDA estimates that over three million individuals will lose their SNAP benefits and approximately 500,000 children will lose free school meals as a result of this proposal. Reduced access to SNAP can also impact families’ access to WIC services through adjunctive eligibility.
The proposed rule is open for public comment until midnight ET. NWA has released template comments to support WIC staff and agencies in responding to the proposed rule. Take a minute out of your day to add your voice to supporting child nutrition! Should you have any additional questions, please reach out to Brian Dittmeier, Senior Public Policy Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senate Advances FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved an Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020. The bill provides $151.7 billion in funding for USDA programs, including $58 million in additional discretionary funding above FY 2019 levels.
The Senate bill includes $6 billion in overall WIC funding for FY 2020, a slight decrease of $75 million from FY 2019 levels. This funding level should be sufficient to serve all eligible participants throughout the next fiscal year. Consistent with recent appropriations bills, the Senate bill rescinds $800 million in unspent food funds. These numbers are the same as the House bill that passed in June.
The Senate bill also includes $80 million in funding for WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program. While this represents the first increase in the program since 2010, it falls short of the $90 million funding level included in the House bill. WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program is demonstrated to increase initiation, duration, and exclusivity, but current funding has been insufficient to meet the need and ensure that every WIC participant can access a peer counselor. NWA recommends that legislators adopt the House funding number of $90 million in conference.
The Senate bill also controversially allocates $25 million to support the relocation of two USDA research agencies – the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – to the Kansas City area. NWA opposed the relocation, as it disrupted ongoing research and led to significant staff attrition. The provisions were vocally opposed by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. The House bill passed in June prohibits the ERS/NIFA relocation, setting up a stark contrast between the two chambers.
House Approves Continuing Resolution to Avert October Shutdown
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution by a vote of 301-123 that would ensure federal funding through November 21. With the end of the fiscal year approaching on September 30, the continuing resolution is a necessary step to avoid a government shutdown in October. The Senate is expected to vote on the continuing resolution this week.
The House had passed 10 out of the 12 appropriations bills in June, but the process was delayed until completion of a bipartisan budget deal that authorized new funding for both defense and domestic programs. The Senate had waited to begin drafting appropriations bills until after passage of the bipartisan budget deal in early August.
The House and Senate must still negotiate the allocation of funding to the different subcommittees, which will require changes to the House-passed versions. The Senate process was also hamstrung in early September over longstanding partisan disputes over the border wall and abortion policy. As a result, a continuing resolution is necessary to extend the negotiations without the threat of a shutdown.
NWA Joins Amicus Brief Opposing Public Charge Rule
Two weeks ago, NWA joined other national and state anti-hunger organizations in an amicus brief filed in six different lawsuits opposing the Department of Homeland Security's public charge rule. The amicus brief argues that the final public charge rule did not properly take into account the chilling effect on immigrant participation in benefit programs - including programs, like WIC, that are not included in the final rule.
The six lawsuits are brought by an assortment of state attorneys general, counties and other localities, direct service providers, and advocacy organizations. The courts are currently weighing whether to grant an injunction that will delay implementation of the final public charge rule. Without an injunction, the public charge rule is scheduled to go into effect on October 15.
FNS Announces Regional Office Realignment
Last week, FNS announced that several states will be shifted into new regional offices as of October 1: Arizona, Utah, Navajo Nation, and the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona will now be in the Southwest Region; Iowa will now be in the Midwest Region; and the US Virgin Islands will now be in the Northeast Region.
Throughout the process, NWA elevated concerns that this realignment would adversely affect WIC programs by reducing funding streams and separating partners in multistate technology projects. The House FY 2020 Agriculture Appropriations bill requires that FNS provide Congress with a briefing on how these concerns were addressed and remedied.
Census Bureau Releases New Poverty Statistics
Two weeks ago, the Census Bureau unveiled national data for 2018 that shows a slight decrease from 2017 in the poverty rate (to 11.8%) and child poverty rate (to 16.2%). The official poverty rate is now lower than 2007, showing a return to pre-recession levels after many years of economic recovery. Still, the Census confirmed that nearly 12 million children live in poverty in the United States, at a rate that is 55.4% higher than adults.