FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Contact: Natalie Moran
News reports confirm that President-Elect Joe Biden will select former Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to reprise his role as USDA chief. Vilsack emerged over a packed field of candidates to provide a steady hand during the burgeoning food insecurity crisis stemming from COVID-19. The National WIC Association has a strong history of partnership on key WIC priorities with Secretary Vilsack, who served as USDA chief for the duration of President Obama’s term in office.
NWA has outlined a number of important steps that Secretary Vilsack can take, when confirmed, to enhance access to WIC services, strengthen the food package, and improve health outcomes for WIC families.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of legislators unveiled a $908 billion framework for the Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020, a new attempt to provide meaningful economic relief for those impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bipartisan proposal, a key negotiating point for stalled talks between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), includes $26 billion for food assistance and agriculture programs. At the urging of the National WIC Association, the bipartisan framework includes a short-term increase to the Cash Value Benefit, which would authorize higher WIC benefit levels for fruit and vegetable purchases. The WIC increases would be paired with a four-month increase to SNAP benefit levels, providing needed support to address the soaring rates of food insecurity, especially for parents with young children.
Rev. Douglas Greenaway, President & CEO of the National WIC Association, issued the following statement in response to these developments:
“COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of millions of families, leaving an increasing number of parents with young children unable to put enough food on the table. Bold action was needed in the spring to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19. We are now almost at year’s end with no meaningful support for families. The bipartisan framework announced today is an urgently needed step forward in the long road to recovery.
“The framework increases WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit, or Cash Value Benefit. This crucial flexibility will enhance the purchasing power of WIC families, increase the availability of nutritious foods for young children, and provide economic relief for the growers and producers who partner with WIC consumers to strengthen American agriculture. First advocated for by Reps. Kim Schrier and Ron Wright, increasing the Cash Value Benefit is a common-sense response to the growing challenges both in family food security and the national food supply chain. Congress must not leave Washington for the holidays without first passing a relief package with the robust nutrition assistance outlined in the bipartisan framework.
“The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. As WIC providers continue to adapt to meet the needs of families, the National WIC Association looks forward to partnering with longtime friend and WIC champion – Secretary Tom Vilsack. Given his eight years leading USDA under President Obama, Secretary Vilsack will be able to hit the ground running. His commitment to WIC’s public health nutrition mission will ensure that science-based reforms to enhance the food options for WIC families will continue to have their intended effect on enhancing diet quality and addressing childhood obesity rates. Of this I am confident, he understands the challenges that WIC families face and he will work to ensure that WIC’s essential role in growing healthy young children and getting them ready to learn is a top priority at USDA.
“Secretary Vilsack will once again have the opportunity to strengthen the nutritional quality of WIC foods by advancing a new review of the WIC food packages, while also taking steps to prioritize vital technology reforms like online purchasing and remote certifications. Secretary Vilsack will be a forward-thinking leader on nutrition programs and a steadfast ally as WIC adapts to a new decade of serving expectant and new parents, babies, and young children.”