In Memoriam: Recognizing WIC Supporters Elijah Cummings (D-MD), John Conyers (D-MI), and Kay Hagan (D-NC)
Over the past week, Congress has marked the passing of three legislators who were key WIC supporters.
Rep. Elijah Cummings passed away on October 17, having represented Baltimore since 1996. Rep. Cummings was a member of House leadership, most recognizable for his role as Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. Rep. Cummings was recognized last week, becoming the first African-American lawmaker to lie in state at the Capitol.
Former Rep. John Conyers – the longest-serving African-American in Congress – passed away yesterday, having represented western Detroit from 1965 to 2017. Rep. Conyers was also a key leader in the House Democratic Caucus, serving as the co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Both congressmen were longtime WIC supporters and joined repeated efforts to secure full funding for the program.
Former Sen. Kay Hagan passed away yesterday, having served one term in the Senate representing North Carolina from 2009 to 2015. Sen. Hagan served as chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Children and Families, where she was a consistent proponent of early childhood initiatives, including WIC, immunizations, and maternal and child health.
Last Week to Weigh in on USDA Rule to Restrict SNAP, School Meals Access
USDA has reopened the comment period for its proposed rule to limit access to SNAP and school meals after failing to disclose that nearly 1 million children would lose direct access to free school meals. The proposed rule - which rolls back broad-based categorical eligibility - has been estimated to affect nearly 3 million participants' eligibility for SNAP. NWA has submitted comments in opposition to this proposed rule, as these new restrictions will increase food insecurity, particularly among children.
Two weeks ago, 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.
As a result of the supplementary analysis, USDA reopened 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senate to Vote on WIC Funding This Week
The Senate is likely to hold votes on final passage for a spending package this week that includes the Agriculture Appropriations bill, which encompasses WIC funding. The Agriculture Appropriations bill was advanced unanimously out of the Senate Appropriations Committee in September.
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. Please look below at the Action of the Month to find ways to support increased funding for breastfeeding peer counselors.
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 completed by November 21 - otherwise, Congress must pass an additional continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown.
The House and Senate have still not agreed on the allocation of funding to the twelve appropriations subcommittees, a significant barrier to passing even non-controversial bills. A major dispute in the allocation negotiations is how much to invest in the Homeland Security bill to pay for investments in the border wall. As a result of this impasse, appropriators are actively discussing a second continuing resolution to extend funding beyond Thanksgiving.
House Examines Bill to Protect Pregnant Workers
Last Tuesday, a subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee held 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., providing a stool, permitting an employee to carry a water bottle, minimizing heavy lifting, etc.). Twenty-seven states currently have some form of accommodations framework for pregnant workers, and this bill would create a national uniform standard to best protect both the long-term employment and health of pregnant workers.
During the hearing, five congresswomen shared their own experiences of working while pregnant. These personal accounts illustrated the need for accommodations in the workplace to prevent negative birth outcomes, including miscarriage. NWA has endorsed the legislation, which could benefit the nearly two million pregnant and postpartum women who access WIC services.
Federal Watchdog to Investigate USDA Suppression of Climate Change Research
Last week, USDA’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation into the Department’s management of climate change research. In June, Senate Democrats flagged that more than 1,400 USDA climate studies were not publicized or disseminated, even as stakeholders grow more concerned about the impact of climate change on the food supply chain. Several studies addressed how changing climate patterns affect the production and nutritional quality of staple foods, including a landmark study on the diminishing nutrients in rice.
Existing research protocols – including broad dissemination of new research – have historically informed stakeholder behavior, ranging from federal policy to business decisions. Accurate and timely research is especially necessary as USDA considers the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which forms the basis for the WIC food package. Relevant nutrition research must be disseminated to WIC stakeholders – ranging from NASEM researchers to state agency offices – to ensure that WIC continues to provide targeted food packages that address the specific nutrient needs of WIC moms and children. Farmers, likewise, have increasingly requested technical assistance in adapting crop production to shifting climate patterns.
USDA Selects Site in Missouri to House Displaced ERS Researchers
Nearly one month after over 500 USDA employees were instructed to report to work in Kansas City, USDA has reportedly selected an office location in Missouri for two research agencies, the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The controversial relocation has led to a mass staff exodus, with only 11% of reassigned employees relocating to Kansas City. As of September 30, 65% of staff positions at ERS and 79% of staff positions at NIFA were vacant. The agency brain drain has resulted in the delay of several research products, including at least two of the seven WIC-specific pending studies at ERS.