National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

January 27, 2020

Breaking News: Supreme Court Allows for Public Charge to Become Effective
Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to lift the nationwide injunction that blocked public charge from going into effect. The 5-4 vote reverses a federal court in New York that had halted the Department of Homeland Security from implementing the rule until constitutional and legal challenges to the rule were fully vetted in the courts.

The final public charge rule – first issued in August 2019 – will penalize some immigrants for accessing SNAP, Medicaid, or housing subsidies. WIC is explicitly excluded from the public charge rule, as is Medicaid for children (up to age 21) and pregnant women (up to 60 days postpartum). Nevertheless, prospective WIC participants remain concerned about accessing WIC services. WIC's job is to remind prospective and current participants that WIC access will not be counted against them. 

The final public charge rule had originally included a 60-day waiting period before the policy change became effective. The Department of Homeland Security has not yet announced when the rule will be implemented. NWA will continue to update members on the consequences of this decision.

Pregnant Workers Bill Advances in House
Two weeks ago, the House Education and Labor Committee advanced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in a bipartisan vote of 29-17. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and John Katko (R-NY), would ensure that pregnant employees could obtain reasonable accommodations (i.e, relief from heavy lifting, a stool to sit on, the ability to carry a water bottle, etc.) to support continued employment throughout pregnancy. Under existing pregnancy discrimination law, pregnant workers have few legal remedies to a denied accommodations request.

NWA endorsed this legislation and has actively worked to support its passage. Ahead of the vote last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed the legislation. The bill is now advanced to the House floor. Once a vote is scheduled, the entire House will vote on the bill’s passage.

Administration to Announce Block Grant Plans for Medicaid
This Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to announce new guidance that would allow states to apply for waivers of Medicaid funding rules, essentially permitting block grants for adults covered through the Medicaid expansion authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Instead of joint federal-state funding, the waivers would set a defined federal contribution – capping spending at a set level.

Congress considered and ultimately rejected permitting states to pursue capped federal spending during the healthcare reform debate in 2017. This guidance would be a significant departure from the existing Medicaid structure, leading to reduced healthcare access for low-income populations. NWA will continue to monitor this proposal and any consequences on Medicaid enrollment.

14 States Sue Over New Limits to SNAP Access
In response to a recent final rule that would limit SNAP access for 700,000 adults, a coalition of fourteen states, the District of Columbia, and New York City have sued USDA. The rule would restrict state discretion to waive strict, three-month time limits on some adult SNAP participants without dependents. NWA opposed the rule throughout the public comment process, and USDA is still weighing two additional proposals to limit SNAP access and benefits.

CDC Monitoring Coronavirus Outbreak
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actively monitoring coronavirus, with the fifth documented case in the United States being confirmed yesterday. There remains no evidence of a person-to-person transmission within the United States, and health officials are cautioning that the virus does not appear to be a threat to public health. The virus – which originated in the Wuhan province of China – has resulted in over 80 deaths in China.

New Immigration Restrictions for Pregnant Women
Last week, the State Department announced new visa restrictions for pregnant women. Non-citizen pregnant women will now have to convince an embassy or consular official that there is a legitimate, medical reason for their travel to the United States – and prove that they’re able to pay for any medical costs. These additional restrictions echo public charge and other immigration policy changes meant to exclude low-income immigrants from entering the United States.

EPA Rolls Back Clean Water Protections
Last Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced steps to dismantle clean water regulations in the most significant rollback since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. The controversial step will reduce protected wetlands by roughly half, disproportionately impacting waterways in Western states. This move will leave more streams, rivers, and other waterways susceptible to contamination by agricultural or industrial runoff, threatening the safety of drinking water.

In 2015, the Obama-era EPA issued an expansion of clean water protections based on significant scientific evidence. Access to safe drinking water is critical for the WIC population, both for general consumption and for safe infant formula preparation. NWA opposes this substantial reversal of longstanding clean water protections and will continue to monitor the safety of water supply systems.

NWA recently announced the new Environmental & WIC Task Force, which will examine WIC’s role in addressing environmental factors that could impact the health or safety of WIC participants. The Task Force will consider the effects of toxins and contaminants in the water and food supply chain as well as broader environmental impacts on community health. The Task Force will develop recommendations and draft position statements for Board approval.