CHN: House Agriculture Appropriations: Some WIC Funding Restored, but Other Cuts to Nutrition and Housing Programs Stay

On June 16, the House passed its Agriculture Appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) by a vote of 217-203 with 19 Republicans joining all Democrats in opposing the bill.  Generally Democrats were concerned that the bill cut programs too deeply and Republican opponents didn’t think the cuts were deep enough.  As reported in the May 31 Human Needs Report, cuts were made at the Subcommittee level in the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program (WIC), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and other nutrition programs to achieve the overall FY 2012 funding level of $17.25 billion for the Department of Agriculture, a 14 percent cut below the level for FY 2011 and 26 percent below the FY 2010 level.  If these cuts are sustained in the final bill negotiated with the Senate later this year, hundreds of thousands of low-income women, infants, children and seniors would lose their food aid.
During full Appropriations Committee consideration of the bill an amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) was approved adding $147 million to the Subcommittee level for the WIC program, bringing its FY 2012 funding level to $6.048 billion.  This is still well below what is needed to serve all who are eligible and significantly less than the $6.7 billion FY 2011 funding level.  Action on the House floor imposed an across-the-board 0.78 percent cut to all areas of the agriculture bill except the one dealing with conservation in order to pay for the $147 million for WIC.

In the final bill, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program is cut by $38 million, down from the FY 2011 funding level of $176.8 million.  Emergency food commodities provided through mandatory funding in TEFAP are capped at $200 million, a $51 million cut below this year’s level.  The bill cuts $2 billion from the SNAP (food stamp) reserve fund that was proposed in the President’s FY 2012 budget, intended to cover unexpectedly high caseload increases.  While previous proposals would have eliminated the Congressional Hunger Center’s Emerson/Leland Fellows program, this bill provides $1.5 million, or half the amount funded in FY 2010.  The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Programs were cut by 10 percent, at $180 million.

The Committee Report accompanying the bill was not subject to the amendment process and includes troublesome language reversing positive changes made in the child nutrition reauthorization bill last year.  The Report directs USDA to scrap its process for new healthy nutrition requirements for the School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.  It also directs USDA to issue a new rule that would not require an increase in the cost of providing school meals.  If schools could not be required to spend more on meals, the proposed nutritional quality improvements would suffer.  This language is not likely to be included in the final bill, and would not be considered binding by the Administration.

Advocates are also deeply concerned about cuts in the bill that would cause tens of thousands of families living in rural areas to lose their rental housing assistance.  The USDA Section 521 Rental Assistance Program is cut from $956 million in FY 2011 to $890 million in FY 2012, affecting 66,000 currently housed tenants.  Ninety-four percent of these households have very low annual incomes, averaging $11,364, and 60 percent are elderly or persons with disabilities.  The bill would also cut funding to repair or renovate USDA-funded developments and funding to develop new rural affordable rental housing and farm labor housing.

The Senate has not begun its process for funding the appropriations bills.  Advocates hope that negotiations with the Senate will lessen the severity of the cuts called for in the House bill.

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