You Say Potato: Congress Mashes it up Over WIC Food Package
You may have thought you’d heard it all when it comes to what Congress will choose to fight about, but that was before the Great Potato Fight of 2014. In the process of moving forward FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bills over the past month, members of both the House and Senate have been drawn into the debate over whether the white spuds should be included in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program food package recipients are allowed to buy with their vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables (for more information about the specifics as they occurred in the House and Senate, see the May 27 Human Needs Report. After this report was published, the House Appropriations Committee also passed its bill, and the full House began debate on it last week. The Senate is expected to vote on its bill this week, while the House vote has been postponed until later in the summer.). The White House got into the act, too, saying it was “strongly opposed” to this provision and threatening to veto the House bill because of this and other objections.
While the issue may sound silly at first glance, for human needs advocates, the controversy was less about the taters themselves and more about the precedent. Why does Congress think it knows more about the nutritional needs of the more than 8 million low-income women and children who benefit from this program than the scientists and nutrition experts at the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, upon whose recommendations the food package is based? Should lawmakers be putting special interests ahead of making sure kids get a healthy start in life? Never before in WIC’s 40-year history has Congress intervened in decisions on the food package. If it’s allowed to do so now, it could be the start of the slide down a very slippery slope – one in which all kinds of different food industries will be jockeying to have their products included in the WIC program in the future. The women and children who rely on WIC deserve better than to have decisions that affect their health based on who spends the most on lobbying.