National WIC Association

Weekly WIC Policy Update

December 18, 2017

Third Continuing Resolution Needed this Week: Fate Uncertain

Congress faces another budget deadline this Friday, when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) is set to expire. Since Congress has not yet come to an agreement on overall budget levels—including the issue of lifting spending caps—this will need to come in the form of a third CR. If Congress is able to come to a deal on the budget, this CR would allow appropriators time to put together an omnibus appropriations package.

Last week, the House introduced a bill that would lift spending caps and appropriate funds for the Department of Defense, but continue all other programs in a CR (a so-called “CRomnibus”). The bill also includes five-year funding for CHIP, but it would draw funds from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which public health advocates oppose. The bill also includes two-year funding for Community Health Centers. The Senate has indicated that it would strip the defense spending section of such a bill, which could lead to a relatively “clean” CR.

Other pending issues that may or may not be addressed in the third CR include disaster relief funding, a fix for the 2 million “DREAMers,” a funding extension for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV)—which refers families to WIC, and was not addressed in the House CR bill—and health care fixes called for by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) as a condition for her vote on the tax package. The third CR may also waive PAYGO requirements, as the Republican tax plan is expected to increase the deficit and trigger automatic cuts to certain mandatory federal programs. If PAYGO is not waived, WIC’s $1 million of mandatory funding could be subject to these automatic cuts.

The National WIC Association has put forward a request for $14 million in additional funds for WIC infrastructure grants to be made available to WIC agencies impacted by presidentially declared emergencies. We continue to discuss this request with appropriators, and hope that it will be part of a disaster package included with the third CR. Swift action to provide funding is critical for the communities that have been ravaged by disasters this year.

If Congress cannot come to a deal for a third CR by this Friday night, December 22, the federal government will experience a shutdown. Given the proximity to the Christmas holiday, a shutdown would likely be short-lived. As always, we encourage you to have a plan in place should a shutdown occur.

Republican Tax Proposal Expected to Become Law This Week

Republican negotiators from the House of Representatives and the Senate reached an agreement last week on a final tax reform proposal. Both houses of Congress expect to vote on the legislation this week, and Republican leaders are confident that they have the votes to secure passage. It is unclear whether the final version of the bill will be voted on before an economic analysis is completed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

The final language hues closely to the bill approved by the Senate on December 2nd. The tax plan will raise taxes on many low- and middle-income families to fund dramatic tax cuts for corporations and billionaires. The corporate tax cut – slashing the rate from 35% to 21% – will be permanent, but the tax cuts for individuals will expire in 2025. According to the Tax Policy Center, 47.5% of all taxpayers – especially those making under $40,000 – will see a tax raise by 2027 to finance this proposal.

Even with a tax raise on nearly half of American taxpayers, the bill will still add $1.45 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years. The National WIC Association is deeply concerned by recent statements from Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other Republican leaders that suggest – because of the deficit – that “we don’t have the money anymore” to fund safety net programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and anti-poverty programs, such as WIC.

In addition, the final bill will repeal the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. 13 million people are expected to lose their access to health insurance. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has insisted on the passage of two bipartisan proposals to stabilize the health insurance marketplaces as a condition of her vote for the tax package. It is unclear whether the healthcare legislation will proceed this week.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) – the lone Republican to oppose the Senate bill – also announced that he would vote for the final package, despite his prior concerns about the deficit increases. Senator Corker is also seeking clarification after a new provision that benefits landlords and income-producing real estate owners, including himself, ended up in the final package – even though it was not included in either the House or Senate bills.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who is battling brain cancer and was recently hospitalized, will not take part in consideration of the final legislation. Senator-Elect Doug Jones (D-AL), who prevailed in a special election last week, will not be seated in time to vote on this legislation.

Trump Administration Prohibits CDC Officials from Using Certain Words and Phrases

Last Thursday, policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were informed that they are no longer permitted to use certain words and phrases in official CDC documents related to the FY 2019 budget. These instructions, which came at the behest of the Trump Administration, forbid the terms “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” In some instances, the analysts were provided with alternative phrases. For instance, instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” It is likely that other parts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in addition to the CDC, are operating under the same guidelines regarding the use of these words.

This Trump Administration directive immediately raised alarm and outrage in the scientific, medical, and public health communities. While it may seem like these language changes will not have direct policy implications, prohibiting the use of these words and phrases indicates that the administration is attempting to remove the use of scientific evidence from the policy-making process. Furthermore, avoiding words like “transgender”, “fetus,” and “diversity” will hamper CDC officials’ ability to ask for funding for studying crucial health issues such as HIV/AIDS and Zika virus. For these reasons, the censorship of these words will likely lead to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates for Americans impacted by the work of the CDC.

CDC director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald responded to reports of this directive by tweeting yesterday that there are “no banned words” and emphasizing the CDC’s commitment to data-driven science. Likewise, several CDC officials have said that last Thursday’s instructions were not meant as a ban on certain words, but rather a technique to appeal to Congressional Republicans by eliminating certain words and phrases in the FY 2019 budgetary request from the CDC.

Whether this represents a true ban or simply an avoidance of controversial terms to score political points, NWA stands with our partners in the scientific, medical, and public health communities in opposition to this directive.