Public Charge Delayed by Federal Courts
Since October 11, five federal courts issued preliminary injunctions delaying implementation of the final public charge rule unveiled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in mid-August. The preliminary injunctions - including nationwide injunctions from courts in New York, Washington State, and Maryland - order that the public charge rule should not take effect until the ongoing lawsuits are resolved in court. Public charge is indefinitely delayed across the country as courts continue to review its legality. The DHS final public charge rule was originally scheduled to go into effect on October 15.
Last month, NWA and other nutrition and anti-hunger organizations filed a supportive legal brief in several of the lawsuits, argued in favor of the preliminary injunctions. The legal filing argued that the final public charge rule would continue to impact programs outside the scope of the rule - like WIC - by discouraging immigrants from accessing any government services. Since the first public charge proposal was leaked in January 2017, there has been and continues to be a significant chilling effect on WIC participation.
WIC is not included in the final public charge rule. For additional information, please consult the resources on NWA's Immigration Resources page or reach out to Brian Dittmeier at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senate to Consider WIC Funding This Week
The Senate is likely to hold votes this week to advance their appropriations bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has filed to hold votes in the full Senate on two spending packages - the first of which will include the Agriculture Appropriations bill, which covers WIC funding. The Agriculture Appropriations bill was advanced unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.
The Senate has not yet fully passed any of the twelve appropriations bills for fiscal year 2020. Once the Senate passes their bills, they must be reconciled with the bills passed by the House of Representatives in June 2019. This process must be complete by November 21 - otherwise, Congress must pass an additional continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown.
Overall WIC funding levels are consistent between the House and Senate versions at $6 billion (a decrease of $75 million from FY 2019 levels), but the Senate version contains a smaller increase in set-aside funding for breastfeeding peer counselors. After years of flat-funding at $60 million, the Senate bill increases breastfeeding peer counselor funding to $80 million. The House instead elevated this funding level to a record investment at $90 million.
USDA Reopens Comment Period on SNAP Rule Amid Scrutiny from Congress
Last week, USDA indicated that it would reopen the comment period for its proposed rule to limit access to SNAP and school meals. The proposed rule - which rolls back broad-based categorical eligibility - has been estimated to affect nearly 3 million participant's eligibility for SNAP. At a hearing last Wednesday, House Democrats questioned Administration officials as to why USDA took months to acknowledge the proposed rule's effect on school meals.
The day before the hearing, USDA posted an analysis that showed that as many as 982,000 children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on their family's participation in SNAP, adding additional burden on families who would now have to proactively apply. This is nearly twice what USDA had informally stated to congressional staff when this proposed rule was originally rolled out in July. In addition, 497,000 would no longer be eligible for free school meals and would have to assume additional costs through the reduced price meals program. USDA did not include the impact on school meals when they released their own regulatory impact analysis as a component of the proposal.
As a result of the supplementary analysis, USDA indicated it would reopen the comment period for its proposed rule until November 1. Comments can be submitted here, and agencies are encouraged to draw upon NWA's template comments. Should you have any additional questions, please reach out to Brian Dittmeier at email@example.com.
House to Examine Protections for Pregnant Workers
This week, a subcommittee of the House Education & Labor Committee will hold a hearing on the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act. The legislation would create additional labor protections for pregnant employees, including a reasonable accommodations framework that would safeguard the worker's employment while reducing risks to the pregnancy (i.e., minimizing heavy lifting). NWA has endorsed the legislation, which could benefit the nearly two million pregnant and postpartum women who access WIC services.
House Hearing Highlights Mass Staff Attrition at ERS
Last Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee scrutinized the impacts of the relocation of two USDA research agencies to the Kansas City area. Staffing levels for both the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are extremely low following their relocation to Kansas City, with many staffers refusing to relocate and therefore departing USDA. At the hearing, Chairwoman Stacey Plaskett (D-USVI) reported that 65% of staffing positions at ERS and 79% of staffing positions at NIFA are currently vacant.
The relocation has also had the impact of delaying ERS and NIFA research. With diminished staff capacity, NIFA has been unable to timely process grant applications and disburse funding to grant recipients. ERS has also signaled that many reports and data sets will be either delayed or discontinued due to staff attrition, including two of seven ongoing studies related to WIC.
Although relocated employees were supposed to report to Kansas City by September 30, USDA still has not secured a permanent work site for ERS and NIFA. NWA will keeps its members updated on the relocation impact as more information becomes available.