National WIC Association

December 22, 2017

Congress Funds Government until January 19, Neglects Key Policy Issues

Last night, Congress passed a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through January 19, 2018. This temporarily averts a government shutdown and ensures that WIC will continue to be funded at FY 2017 levels, less a small cut to comply with sequestration requirements. The Senate voted for the measure 66-32, and the House approved the bill by a vote of 231-188. Numerous Democrats opposed the legislation because several important priorities were not addressed, whereas several Republicans voted against the bill because it left non-defense discretionary spending at current levels while neglecting to fully appropriate defense spending.

In addition to baseline funding, the CR includes $2.85 billion for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to be available through March. This level of funding is deeply inadequate, and states anticipate the funding will only last through the end of January. By failing to fully reauthorize – or even offer a robust temporary fix for – CHIP, Congress has neglected its duty to American children. Families and state program officials will continue to worry about how to pay for their children’s care during the holiday season.

In addition to inadequate CHIP funds, the CR includes temporary extenders for select public health programs, including community health centers. Paradoxically, the bill pays for these extenders and the CHIP funding by rescinding funds from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, undercutting a program that supports the work of community health centers and other public health work. This does not solve the problem of funding these public health programs, but instead creates a new funding gap in the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

The CR neglected to address disaster aid. Instead, the House passed a separate measure, which was insufficient to meet many of Puerto Rico’s needs. NWA’s request for $14 million in additional funds for WIC infrastructure grants to be made available to WIC agencies impacted by presidentially declared emergencies was not included in the package. It is unclear whether the House’s bill will have enough support to pass the Senate. As Congress has now left Washington for the holidays, disaster funding will not be addressed until the new year, leaving communities impacted by recent hurricanes and wildfires without critical aid over the holidays.

The CR does not address a number of other pressing issues, especially by failing to offer any solution for the 2 million DREAMers who came to the United States as undocumented immigrant children and await legislative action on their legal status. The CR likewise did not include any fix for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces that Senator Collins (R-ME) had secured in exchange for her vote on the recently passed tax bill. These include funding Cost-Sharing Reductions (CSRs), which are payments made by the federal government to subsidize health insurance for qualifying Americans. Legislative action on these issues could be attached to the next spending bill in mid-January.

The CR waives “PAYGO” requirements, which would have otherwise led to automatic cuts in mandatory spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. This will allow President Trump to sign the tax bill into law this year without triggering these cuts in 2018.