Lend Your Voice to the Deficit Reduction Talks Today!

Prevent Cuts to the Nutrition Programs and Programs for At-Risk, Low-Income, and Poor People in Need!

Washington, DC, 29 June 2011 – The White House and congressional leaders are in final negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

Congress must raise the debt ceiling so that the U.S. government can pay its current obligations. To secure votes to raise the debt ceiling, some members of Congress are withholding support unless dramatic cuts are made to federal spending—including destructive, long-term cuts to the nutrition, hunger, and other programs for people in need.

Every deficit-reduction package of the last 30 years has been bi-partisan, exempting key programs for at-risk, low-income, poor people from cuts. We must protect these programs.

Final negotiations between the President and key leaders in Congress are happening right now. Call your senators today and tomorrow and ask them to urge Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a circle of protection around funding for the nutrition programs and programs for at-risk, low-income, and poor people in the United States and the desperately poor abroad in any legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Do not put off your call! Make your voice heard!

You can explain your message by adding any or all of these points:

  • Exempt programs for hungry and poor people from cuts. All major deficit-reduction packages in the past 30 years under Republican and Democratic leaders have exempted key domestic programs that affect hungry and poor people. Congress must continue this precedent by protecting low-income programs here in the United States and abroad.
  • Revenues and spending cuts must be on the table to achieve deficit reduction so we can continue our commitment to ending hunger and poverty at home and abroad.
  • Funding these programs is good for the economy. Low-income families spend their benefits immediately and in their local communities, leading to local job creation and job sustainability.

Your Senators need to hear from you today and by Friday 1 July at the latest! Call your U.S. senators on 202.224.3121 and tell them to urge Sens. Reid and McConnell to protect the nutrition, hunger and other programs for at-risk, low-income, and poor people in the debt ceiling negotiations.


House Cuts Do More Funding Damage than First Assumed!

Washington, DC, 20 June 2011 – The 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) approved by the full House in contentious floor debate last week by a vote of 217-203 does more funding damage to the WIC Program’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget than previously thought! House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Staff advised NWA late Friday night of the further reduction in funding.

Here’s what happened!

  • When the bill left the House Committee on Appropriations Tuesday 31 May, an amendment by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, had increased funding for the Program from $5.901 billion (the House Agriculture Appropriation Subcommittee’s markup funding level set the previous week) by $148 million to $6.048 billion.
  • But Republican lawmakers opposed DeLauro’s amendment on the floor of the House which offset the increase to WIC by reducing funding to the Brazilian Cotton Institute. Lawmakers then voted to cut the funding from the Cotton Institute. This left WIC funding at $5.901 billion again.
  • The floor manager for the bill, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-GA, Chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, assured Rep. DeLauro and Democrats who had opposed the rollback that he would restore the $147 million included in her amendment to WIC.
  • To accomplish this, he offered an amendment that cut all of the Programs in the first six titles of the bill – everything from agriculture and conservation programs, to rural development, domestic nutrition and food programs, to foreign assistance and related programs, and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) – by 0.78%.
  • This left WIC funded at $6.00 billion, barely above the Subcommittee’s markup level of $5.901 billion and hardly the bump back up to $6.048 approved by the full Committee.
  • The bottom line: a cut of $733 million off of Fiscal Year 2011 funding of $6.734 billion and a potential loss of 300,000-700,000 moms and young children from the Program’s benefits!

Earlier in the day, with the help of NWA members and the breastfeeding community, the House voted 119-306 (click here for a PDF of the Roll Call Vote) to reject an amendment by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, to cut $82.5 million in funding for breastfeeding peer counselors and performance bonuses! The House also voted to reject by a vote of 64-360, an amendment by Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, to cut $604 million from WIC.

These cuts are bad news not only for WIC, but all of the nutrition, agriculture, conservation, and foreign assistance programs and the FDA that have taken a broad-side in the name of deficit reduction and political ideology.

At the end of the day, these cuts, but particularly the WIC and nutrition funding cuts, will damage the nation’s public health nutrition infrastructure, result in challenging nutrition consequences for hundreds of thousands of mothers, children, and families, have long-term negative health consequences, hurt rural and urban communities alike, and hurt small businesses and family farmers. These cuts will cost jobs! None of this makes any sense for an economy that is struggling to find its feet or for families who are caught in endless cycles of frustration, desperation, even hunger as they try to make ends meet!

The final bill does include $14 million in funding for infrastructure, $75 million for breastfeeding peer counselors and related activities (NWA proposed $80 million) including $7.5 million for breastfeeding performance bonuses (NWA proposed $10 million), and $50 million for management information systems/EBT development (NWA proposed $60 million).


House of Representatives Acts to Cut Mothers and Young Children from WIC!

Washington, D.C, June 16, 2011 - In a sad day for our nation’s most vulnerable population, the U.S. House of Representatives today voted largely along party lines (217-203) to cut hundreds of thousands of mothers and young children off of the nation’s premier public health nutrition program serving low-income mothers and young children to age 5 – the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) – eliminating access to critical nutritious foods, nutrition services and referrals to health care and social services.

The legislation, the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture spending bill (H.R.2112) funds WIC at $6.048 billion – a $686 million reduction from the current fiscal year’s funding level of $6.734 billion. Current funding allows WIC to serve roughly 8.9 million mothers and young children. Under the House’s approved bill, between 200,000 and 750,000 low-income mothers and young children will be cut from the Program in the midst of a still weakened economy.

“Families turning to WIC for nutrition assistance are vulnerable and at-risk,” said Kiran Saluja, Chair of the National WIC Association, NWA Board of Directors.” Economic crises compound their vulnerability and WIC food packages and the nutrition services that accompany them ensure that WIC mothers and young children stay healthy.”

“With these funding cuts, WIC will be forced to turn mothers and young children away!” said the Rev. Douglas A. Greenaway, President & CEO of NWA. “WIC’s food budgets, like all families’ food budgets, are sensitive to inflation. Economists are predicting food prices to rise by at least 5% during the 2012 fiscal year, so there won’t be enough money to meet the nutritional needs of all WIC families.”

Quality nutrition services are the centerpiece of WIC: nutrition and breastfeeding education, nutritious foods, and improved healthcare access for low and moderate income women and children with, or at risk of developing, nutrition-related health problems, including overweight, obesity, and type-2 diabetes. Research demonstrates that the food and nutrition education components of WIC work synergistically to achieve successful outcomes:

  • WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of low birth-weight babies by 25% and very low birth-weight babies by 44%.
  • Infants receiving WIC are less likely to be underweight and are in better health than eligible infants not participating in WIC.
  • WIC children have improved nutrient intakes, improved immunizations rates, and dramatically reduced risks of child abuse or neglect.

The National WIC Association, NWA, is a non-profit representing the nearly 9 million mothers and young children participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – known as WIC – and the nation’s 12,200 dedicated WIC service provider agencies.

For further information contact the National WIC Association on 202/232-5492 or visit our web site at www.nwica.org.


My Letter to US Congressman David Schweikert

As a voting constituent, I write in strong opposition to the counter-productive cuts to nutrition programs included in the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, H.R. 2112. This legislation would have a devastating impact on our nation’s most vulnerable populations. I urge you and your colleagues to speak out against these cuts when this bill comes to the House floor for debate. I urge you to vote against the bill in its present form.

In particular, funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), despite an amendment approved in Committee increasing funding by $147 million, is set at $6.048 billion -- $686 million below the current Fiscal Year 2011 funding level. This would result (depending upon participation growth and food cost inflation) in 200,000 to 350,000 vulnerable, at-risk, low-income pregnant, post-partum, and breastfeeding women, infants, children losing critical nutrition assistance. I urge the House to amend the bill to fund WIC at $6.83 billion.

As passed out of Committee, the legislation also contains report language that misrepresents the reality of WIC’s preventative public health nutrition services – the core mission of the Program. By lumping the cost of these and other critical mission driven client services into program management or administrative costs, the Committee claims that WIC administrative costs are well above 40%. The reality is that in fiscal year 2010, WIC administrative costs (according to USDA) averaged 9.09%. I urge the House to strike this report language.

WIC currently serves nearly 8.9 million mothers and young children (Over 2000 in Tempe) – approximately one out of four pregnant women and roughly 50% of all infants or grandbabies born in the United States – providing nutrition education and breastfeeding support, health care and social service referrals, and nutritious monthly food packages with an average value of $41.43 in fiscal year 2010.

Almost 51% of pregnant women enroll in WIC during their first trimester of pregnancy and at certification, 25% of those pregnant women have three or more nutrition risk factors. Numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; fewer low and very low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy; and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium, and Vitamins A and C.

Preterm births cost the U.S. over $26 billion a year with the average first year medical costs of a premature/low birth-weight baby roughly $49,033 compared to $4,551 for a baby born without complications. WIC prenatal care benefits reduce the rate of low birth-weight babies by 25% and very low birth-weight babies by 44%, saving the nation vast sums in health care costs. Every dollar spent on pregnant women in WIC produces $1.92 to $4.21 in Medicaid savings for newborns and their mothers.

Infants receiving WIC are less likely to be underweight and are in better health than eligible infants not participating in WIC. Participation in WIC positively influences the nutrient intakes of children, improves immunizations rates, and dramatically reduces the risk of child abuse or neglect. WIC children at ages 1 to 2 have less dental related Medicaid costs compared to children who do not participate in WIC and four and five-year olds whose mothers participated in WIC during pregnancy have better vocabulary test scores than children whose mothers had not received WIC benefits.

For better than a decade and a half, successive Administrations and Congresses have provided bi-partisan supported funding to serve all eligible women, infants and children who apply to WIC. The proposed cut would needlessly harm hundreds of thousands of WIC families.

I urge Congress to fund WIC at $6.83 billion and continue to closely monitor WIC caseload and food cost inflation to assure sufficient funding to maintain current caseload, keep pace with rising food prices, and ensure WIC is able to serve all eligible mothers and young children who apply to the Program.

No one denies that our nation is facing serious fiscal challenges, but balancing the budget on the backs of vulnerable, at-risk, low-income populations that need essential food and nutrition assistance programs is not the way to achieve financial security. I urge you to do everything in your power to protect our nation’s struggling families from hunger and improve their nutritional health and well-being. I urge you to oppose the funding cuts to WIC and the other nutrition Programs.


House Appropriations Committee Acts On WIC Funding, Floor Action Expected Next Week

Washington, DC, 6 June 2011 – The full House Appropriations Committee, Chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-KY, met 31 May to markup a final version of the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill passed the previous week for the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Chaired by Rep. Jack Kingston, R-GA, funding WIC at $5.901 billion.

During the markup, Republican appropriators accepted an amendment, passed by voice vote, offered by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, increasing WIC funding by an additional $147 million over the Subcommittee’s mark, bringing the appropriation total to $6.048 billion. As this money was derived from an offset achieved by decreasing an equivalent amount of funding for the Brazil Cotton Institute, there is no guarantee that money will not be removed by amendment when the bill comes to the floor – likely next week.

NWA’s recommended funding level for Fiscal Year 2012 is $6.83 billion. Fiscal Year 2011 funding for WIC is set at $6.734 billion and the President’s 2012 budget request was $7.39 billion.

Additionally, the Committee voted to include $14 million in funding for infrastructure, $75 million for breastfeeding peer counselors and related activities (NWA proposed $80 million), $7.5 million for breastfeeding performance bonuses (NWA proposed $10 million), and $50 million for management information systems/EBT development (NWA proposed $60 million).

When one adds to the base funding approved by the full Committee of $6.048 billion, the $125 million in contingency funding, and the estimated fiscal year 2011 recoveries of roughly $476 million, it would appear that the total funding for the 2012 fiscal year ($6.649 billion) will still be inadequate to meet program needs, particularly should food cost inflation spike during the fiscal year as many economist anticipate.

Appropriators continue to suggest that USDA should look to SNAP contingency funds should the WIC Program find itself in need of additional resources during the 2012 fiscal year. NWA does not believe that to be an appropriate way to manage programmatic needs and potentially jeopardizes another nutrition program’s funding requirements. NWA will continue to advocate for $6.83 billion for the Program.

Several items in the Committee’s Report language are particularly troubling.

1. On the matter of Nutrition Services and Administrative funding, NSA, the Committee retained the Subcommittee’s Report which seems a misunderstanding of WIC NSA funding which averaged nationally in fiscal year 2009 at 21.42% pre-rebate and 27.90% post rebate vs. fiscal year 2010 at 23.35% pre-rebate and 29.56% post rebate. Moreover, the Committee accepts what appears to be the premise of the Subcommittee that nutrition services and other WIC set-asides are all considered administrative “overhead.” In the course of making their argument, the Committee also seemed to revisit without explicitly stating so, the arguments of the second half of the Bush Administration wherein efforts were made to cap NSA funding.

The Report reads:

WIC Services and Administrative Costs.— While the average participation in WIC has grown by 26 percent over the past 10 years, administrative costs for WIC have grown by 72 percent or $800 million dollars between 2001 and 2010. Keeping in mind that some of WIC’s program offerings (i.e., nutrition and smoking cessation programs) have expanded over the past 10 years and state salary and benefit costs have grown with inflation, administrative and service delivery costs as a percentage of the overall cost of the program are excessively high. By the Committee’s estimation, administrative costs of operating WIC are well above 40 percent. In contrast to other social service organizations, the model guidelines by the Federal Government’s Combined Federal Campaign require a justification from any local charity that has administrative costs exceeding 25 percent and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance charity standards set a rate not to exceed 35 percent to cover administrative costs. FNS needs to achieve increased savings through greater use of benchmarking across states or achieve economies of scale whereby the agency and its state partners can decrease the delivery or program costs per participant. These costs pose the greatest threat to fully supporting the vital nutritional needs of all WIC participants. The Committee directs FNS to submit a plan by July 29, 2011, to reduce administrative costs.

2. The Committee also retained the Subcommittee’s Report on WIC Program eligibility and seemed to revisit the arguments of the second half of the Bush Administration wherein efforts were made to cap Medicaid adjunctive eligibility.

Categorical eligibility.—WIC provides nutritional support to some of the most vulnerable individuals in the U.S. population. However, due to the Nation’s overall financial crisis and the rapidly expanding needs of other Federal nutrition programs administered by FNS, the Committee recommends that the agency focus first on the nutritional needs of those originally envisioned in the creation of this program. While the Committee understands the need to seek efficiencies through the use of Categorical Eligibility, the Committee is concerned that USDA is expanding eligibility well beyond the neediest or hardest hit during the economic downturn. In particular, USDA has confirmed that the WIC program is now serving significant numbers of individuals with incomes above 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines, including seven states that use income eligibility limits above 250 percent of poverty.

Finally, the Committee adopted the Subcommittee’s Report on electronic benefit transfer, EBT, and management information systems, MIS, applauding some of WIC’s successes and supporting NWA’s recommendation that states move expeditiously towards achieving the WIC EBT by 2020 goal, and allow a decoupling of requirements to meet MIS standards before implementing EBT to speed the process.

Electronic Benefit Transfer, EBT.---The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, P.L. 111–296 mandated that each state implement EBT for WIC no later than October 1, 2020. A few states are leading the way on WIC EBT implementation and should serve as models required by other states, including those state plans that take advantage of the states’ existing food stamp or SNAP EBT system. As a reminder, the SNAP program did not require states to fully develop Management Information Systems (MIS) or meet MIS standards before implementation of SNAP EBT, and the WIC program also should not make such a requirement. The Committee directs FNS to develop an implementation plan for a more accelerated schedule in order to take advantage of the benefits that WIC EBT would yield for both the Federal, state and private sector stakeholders. FNS should work with state WIC agencies to provide the Committee with the plan by December 31, 2011.

The House leadership hopes to move the legislation to the full House floor next week. The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has yet to markup a fiscal year 2012 Agriculture spending bill.

Senate Legislative Progress Stymied by Political Gamesmanship

Washington, DC, 6 June 2011 – Legislative activity on budget and appropriations issues slows to a crawl this week as the House and Senate alternatively leave for recess and return from recess.

While the Senate is the body back in Washington this week, the body has no budget or appropriations work scheduled, although symbolic floor votes on budget issues may be possible.

Of interest to the WIC community, as it relates to the overall jobs picture and how legislative progress is stymied by political gamesmanship, the Senate has plans this week to take up S-782, legislation to reauthorize the Economic Development Administration, an agency within the U.S. Commerce Department providing aid to economically distressed communities in an effort to stimulate business activity, economic growth, and as a result helping to create new jobs.

The bill will likely become a vehicle for debate over how to bolster the overall national economy and create jobs. Last week news offered a disappointing jobs report indicating the creation of only 54,000 jobs in May, much lower than economists had predicted. At the same time, the nation’s unemployment rate increased to 9.1 percent. Part of that debate will likely involve consideration of the budget, spending and tax issues, which both parties consider directly related to economic growth and job creation.

The outcome of this legislation could reflect the challenges of a small-business bill taken up earlier this year by the Senate that similarly became a vehicle for consideration of unrelated issues, including budget issues, and a resulting dispute over allowable amendments that ultimately sunk the measure.

The bill, S-493, to reauthorize small-business research programs, broadly supported by both parties, languished on the Senate floor for nearly a month and a half. During that time, Senators took up votes on a wide range of other issues as diverse as amendments to block or delay the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act; bar millionaires from receiving unemployment benefits; and require Office of Management and Budget to identify and consolidate duplicative federal programs. Senate Democratic leaders pulled the bill in early May after being unable to reach an agreement on what additional unrelated amendments would be considered and after a vote to invoke cloture and thereby limit amendments fell short.