Appropriators in the House are starting to turn the cuts in total spending proposed in the House Budget Resolution into specific reductions in essential services. One of the first examples is a cut in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program (WIC) that could cause between 325,000 – 475,000 low-income young children and pregnant women to be denied WIC’s nutritious food packages. The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee approved this harsh cut on May 24. The full Committee is expected to vote on the bill on May 31. Funding for WIC is recommended at $5.9 billion, down from $6.7 billion this year, and from $7.4 billion in FY 2010. The funding level proposed is 20 percent below the amount funded in FY 2010. Whether the higher estimate of children and mothers losing food assistance will be accurate depends on the extent of food inflation over the next year. If food inflation is in the 3.5 – 4.5 percent range, 475,000 will lose nutrition help.
The Committee asserts that the WIC program can avoid turning people away from help by tapping previously unspent funds. Analysts do not believe there are resources in WIC sufficient to prevent substantial losses, especially with food inflation on the rise.
The Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee also cut the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides emergency food packages primarily to low-income seniors. The program was cut $38 million below the current year funding. The House leadership had proposed a $20 million cut to CSFP for this year, estimated to cost 81,000 seniors their food packages. That cut was defeated, but is proposed in even more severe form for FY 2012.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is cut as well. TEFAP supplies about one-quarter of the food delivered to food pantries and other facilities around the country. Storage, distribution, and administrative funding are cut down to $37.5 million (about $12 million below this year’s level). The bill also makes a 20 percent cut in the “mandatory” side of TEFAP (direct funding of food for distribution that does not have to be annually appropriated), by capping the total at $200 million (down $51 million from current levels).
In addition, the Subcommittee apparently has rejected the President’s proposals to add $25 million for State Childhood Hunger Challenge Grants, $10 million for School Breakfast Expansion Grants, and $5 million for Hunger Free Communities Grants.
In the past, there has been bipartisan support for WIC and other nutrition programs, an agreement that ended with the commitment of the House leadership to seek massive domestic spending cuts.