National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

December 16, 2019

FY 2020 Spending Packages Unveiled
Today, Congress unveiled two spending packages to fund all federal agencies for fiscal year 2020. The House is scheduled to vote on the two spending packages tomorrow, with the Senate holding votes before funding expires on Friday, December 20.

WIC is included in the spending package with $6 billion in overall funding, a slight decrease (of $75 million) from FY 2019 levels. NWA agrees that this funding level is sufficient to meet expected caseload.

The spending package also includes a record investment in WIC’s Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program, fully realizing the $90 million funding level authorized in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. This is a $30 million increase – the first such increase in nearly a decade. NWA led the broader public health community in pushing for this historic funding commitment, which was championed by House Democrats throughout the appropriations process. NWA would particularly like to thank Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) for including the funding increase in the initial House appropriations bill, and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Gwen Moore (D-WI) for raising awareness about the importance of funding WIC’s effective peer counselor program.

The spending package also includes strong language rebuking USDA’s efforts to relocate two research agencies – namely the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – outside of the National Capital Region to Kansas City, Missouri. The spending bill requires USDA to obtain authorization from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees before using federal funding to take certain personnel actions – including relocating offices or employees.

Though votes are scheduled this week, the White House has not yet endorsed the final spending package. Final passage of this spending package is a necessary step to avoiding a government shutdown when funding expires on Friday.

House Advances Expansion of Home Visiting Programs
Last Thursday, the House passed a comprehensive healthcare bill that would require the government to negotiate prices for costly pharmaceuticals and prescription drugs by a vote of 230-192. Two Republicans joined House Democrats to advance the bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to bring up for a vote in the Senate.

The House bill included a provision expanding the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). MIECHV programs complement WIC services by providing evidence-based home visits to support maternal and child health. The House bill would double the federal investment in the program, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. The House bill would also quadruple the federal investment in tribal home visiting programs, to address maternal mortality disparities faced by native women.

Legislators Request Review of ERS Relocation
Last Wednesday, members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee requested an independent cost-benefit analysis of USDA’s relocation of two research agencies to Kansas City, Missouri. The relocation has undermined USDA’s ability to conduct nutrition research, as approximately 64% of positions at the Economic Research Service (ERS) remain vacant.

The members of Congress request an independent cost-benefit analysis by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). When the House Appropriations Committee first requested an analysis last year, USDA contracted Ernst & Young and then declined to share the full report with Congress and the public. An independent analysis conducted by the Agriculture and Applied Economics Association estimated that the relocation of researchers will cost taxpayers between $83 million and $182 million.

NWA actively monitors the effects of USDA’s relocation of the research agencies and has led the nutrition community in raising awareness of the damaging effects to both staff retention and capacity to continue ongoing nutrition and food security research.

Senate Confirms New FDA Commissioner
Last week, the Senate confirmed Stephen Hahn to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by a vote of 72-18. Hahn was previously a cancer researcher and hospital administrator who served as the chief medical executive at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer center in Houston. FDA manages federal food safety policy, and the new commissioner will steer the Administration’s position on a wide range of issues, including e-cigarettes, opioids, and foodborne illnesses.

Hahn was noticeably evasive during his confirmation hearings on whether to pursue new vaping regulations, which the White House had delayed due to industry and electoral concerns. The previous commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, had not altered course on nutrition policy from prior administrations, upholding nutrition labeling on menus and retail packaging and supporting voluntary efforts to reduce salt across the food supply.

FDA Investigations into Tainted Romaine Lettuce Suspect Water Contamination
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an unprecedented warning that romaine lettuce originating in California’s Salinas Valley may be contaminated with e. coli bacteria, leading to over 100 illnesses in 23 states. As federal agencies continue to investigate, signs are pointing to contaminated agricultural water.

FDA recently delayed implementation of new agricultural water testing rules, promulgated under the Obama Administration, that would enhance screening for food safety issues. NWA is convening an Environmental Quality Task Force to assess environmental issues that intersect with the delivery of WIC services.