Policy Focus: Congress Kicks Around Many Funding Options
As we begin the summer, it is a busy season for considering the many funding options for federal programs and other hunger-related matters.
Budget and Appropriations
The full House Appropriations Committee considered Agriculture Appropriations last week. The Agriculture Appropriations bill funds domestic and international discretionary nutrition-assistance programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC) and international food-aid programs.
Top-line funding levels include:
- WIC: $6.623 billion, $93 million less than last year and $200 million less than Bread requested. This funding level is expected to cover current and projected WIC participation in 2015.
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program: $208.682 million to provide monthly food packages to low-income seniors. This is a $6 million increase in funding over fiscal year 2014.
- Food for Peace Title II Grants: $1.466 billion, level funding from FY 2014.
- McGovern-Dole School Feeding program: $198 million, $13 million more than FY 2014 funding.
Also included in the Agriculture Appropriations bill is language that allows white potatoes in the WIC food package and school to be waived from compliance with school meal regulations. Bread opposed both of these policy changes, or “riders,” along with many in the faith and anti-hunger community. Members of Congress spoke out about the issue during the markup. Two amendments were considered to strip out the language around these policy riders.
Unfortunately, these efforts, which Bread supported, failed. Bread’s stance on this issue is that nutrition programs should be based on the best available nutrition science, not on special or political interests, which is how these policy riders made it into the bill. See more on Bread Blog.
When introduced a few weeks ago, Agriculture Appropriations bills in both the House and Senate did not include significant funding for food-aid reform (including funding for local and regional purchase programs authorized in farm bill, the Obama administration's request for $35 million to help end monetization, and 25 percent flexibility for more local and regional purchases and cash vouchers). However, Bread worked hard to get a last-minute food-aid reform amendment introduced at the Senate Appropriations full committee mark-up, which would provide $35 million of existing funds to reduce the need to monetize food aid (selling U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for lifesaving food and nutrition security programs). The amendment was introduced by Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). It passed, thanks in large part to calls and emails from constituents. (See the related article in this issue.)
This was a great step forward for the food-aid reform movement, but the House version still leaves out funding for important reform efforts, and your help and calls to your members of Congress will be needed as the bill moves forward.
With regard to cargo preference, Bread expects to see a Coast Guard Reauthorization bill drafted this month, with a mark-up in committee later this summer (see background here). Bread expects to see heated debate around the topic but was happy to see Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.) is opposed to the provision, and recently Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee opposing the cargo-preference increase for food aid.
Finally, just this week, Sens. Corker and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. If passed, this bipartisan legislation would provide up to 9 million more people with lifesaving aid at no additional cost by using taxpayer dollars more efficiently. The bill modernizes U.S. food-aid programs, removing outdated red tape and ensuring the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) can reach more of the world's most vulnerable children and families quickly and effectively during times of crisis.
Poverty-Focused Development Assistance
The Senate is scheduled to consider (or “mark up”) its State, Foreign Operations (SFOPS) bill on June 19. The House has yet to announce a markup date for its SFOPS bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an allocation of $39.66 billion in base spending and $8.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for SFOPS. This comes to a total of $48.26 billion.
In noting a concern over the low base allocation for the Senate SFOPS bill, the Interfaith Working Group on Foreign Assistance, which Bread coleads, will be sending a letter to Senate appropriators requesting that these baseline cuts do not come at the expense of humanitarian and poverty-focused development assistance programs.
June and July continue to be the most critical months for the House to take action on immigration reform. It has been a year since the Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the House will take a piecemeal approach and pass a series of immigration bills rather than one comprehensive bill like the Senate’s S. 744. Still, the House has yet to pass any immigration bills, and while work has been going on behind the scenes, the House must pass something for the two chambers to conference on and enact reform into law.
With most primaries over, many members of Congress may feel empowered to step out and take more difficult votes on immigration reform. Thus, the coming weeks before the August recess are the window of opportunity for Congress to progress on this issue.
In March, President Obama requested the Department of Homeland Security to begin examining ways to enforce the agency's deportation laws "more humanely." The results of this review were expected this summer, but last week the president pushed the timeline back several months to allow Speaker Boehner more time to consider an immigration reform bill in the lower chamber.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced a deadline of July 31 for the House to pass immigration reform legislation, encouraging Obama to take executive action if the House fails to act. Reid also encouraged the House to pass legislation that would go into effect in 2017 to address concerns about Obama enforcing the law. Obama’s move was met with some pushback from other members of the Democratic caucus, who are worried about whether the Republican-controlled House will act on immigration this year.