National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

November 4, 2019

Senate Passes WIC Funding, Another Continuing Resolution Likely

Last Thursday, the Senate passed its first spending package for fiscal year 2020 by a vote of 84-9. Four of the twelve appropriations bills were included in the spending package, including the Agriculture Appropriations bill that funds WIC. The House had previously passed an Agriculture Appropriations bill in June.

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.

The House and Senate have still not agreed on the allocation of funding between 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. The allocations must be determined before the House and Senate can agree on a final Agriculture Appropriations bill that will ensure funding through the end of FY 2020.

The allocation negotiations must be completed by November 21 - otherwise, Congress would have to pass an additional continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown. Appropriators are actively discussing a second continuing resolution to extend funding beyond Thanksgiving. NWA will continue to update members as the funding deadline approaches.

Federal Court Delays Policy Barring New Immigrants on Medicaid

On Saturday, one day before it was due to go into effect, a federal judge in Oregon delayed a presidential proclamation that restricts the issuance of visas to immigrants who cannot demonstrate that they are able to pay for health coverage within 30 days of entry. The proclamation specifically targets immigrants who are either uninsured or who would otherwise access Medicaid or federal subsidies for Affordable Care Act marketplace plans – approximately 65% of immigrants entering the country each year. The proclamation would not impact legal permanent residents, asylees, or refugees.

The presidential proclamation is distinct from the public charge rule, which was delayed by a number of courts last month. The two policies work in tandem to deny legal status to immigrants who are otherwise permitted to enter the country and access federal programs and benefits. NWA has joined a broad chorus of organizations in opposing both the public charge rule and the presidential proclamation.

White House Nominates New FDA Commissioner

The White House has nominated Stephen Hahn of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to serve as the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA manages federal food safety policy, and the new commissioner will have to grapple with a wide range of hot-button issues – including e-cigarettes, opioids, and e. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce. Hahn is a government outsider with an apolitical reputation, having served largely in hospital administration and as a cancer researcher.

The previous commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, did not alter course on nutrition policy from prior administrations, upholding nutrition labeling on menus and packages and supporting voluntary efforts to reduce salt across the food supply. Additional insight into Hahn’s priorities as FDA commissioner will be gained from the pending confirmation hearings before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

New Reporting Highlights Need for Investment in Nutrition Research

An in-depth investigative report documents the decades-long stagnation in federal funding for nutrition research, even as nutrition-related conditions like obesity, type-2 diabetes, and high blood pressure grow more prevalent. The report concludes that funding for nutrition research at USDA and the National Institutes of Health has remained largely flat for at least three decades. The report comes in the midst of a joint effort by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to overhaul the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including issuing dietary recommendations for the first time for pregnant women and children up to age two.