Washington Update: Week of July 18

Washington Update

Congress has adjourned for its summer recess until Sept. 6. Washington Update is produced only when Congress is in session, and so this will be the last issue until Congress returns. Before Washington Update also takes a break, we wanted to review the progress on Bread’s policy-change agenda since January.

Global Food Security Act/Feed the Future

  • Several years of advocacy from Bread staff and members have resulted in the final passage of the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252)! GFSA passed Congress on July 6 with broad, bipartisan support.
  • In the first half of 2016, there were several interim victories. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Senate version of the bill, S. 1252, in March. Then the House of Representatives passed its version, H.R. 1567, on April 12, followed quickly by the full Senate passing S. 1252. Because the two bills were slightly different, the House decided to take up the Senate’s version of the bill. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed S. 1252 in May, and the full House of Representatives passed the bill in July.
  • The final bill included strong provisions for nutrition and women’s empowerment as well as measures for the accountability and transparency of the funds and programs. The bill also authorized the existing International Disaster Assistance programs, which include a critical Emergency Food Security Program to address the full spectrum of global food security.
  • President Obama is expected to sign GFSA tomorrow, but there will be no signing ceremony.

2016 Offering of Letters – Maternal & Child Nutrition Funding

  • Over the past several months, Bread has led and worked as part of coalitions to build and sustain support in Congress for global maternal and child nutrition and to request that global nutrition funding be increased to at least $230 million in fiscal year 2017. Due to the many requests from Bread staff and members and a variety of partners, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the Ranking Member of the House State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations subcommittee, included $230 million for global nutrition in her personal appropriations request to the subcommittee.
  • Bread also pushed congressional offices to sign on to two Dear Colleague letters (sent from members of Congress to other members of Congress) focused on nutrition funding in FY 2017. Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wa.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) initiated a letter to the members of the House State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations subcommittee requesting “robust funding” for maternal and child health and nutrition. 146 members of Congress signed on to this letter. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) initiated a separate letter to the subcommittee specifically requesting $230 million for nutrition in global health programs in FY 2017. This letter had 55 signatures from members of Congress. Finally, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) initiated a letter to the Senate State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations subcommittee requesting robust funding for maternal and child health and nutrition, and 27 senators signed on to it. Bread staff and members conducted significant outreach to offices to sign on to these letters.
  • By mid-July, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees had marked up and passed their State and Foreign Operations appropriations bills. Both chambers provided $125 million for nutrition in global health programs for FY 2017. While this is short of Bread’s official goal (in its Offering of Letters) of $230 million, it is a rejection of the president’s cut to the funding for global nutrition and still represents a strong investment in global maternal and child nutrition.
  • Both the House and Senate still have to consider final passage of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriation bill. Moving forward, we will continue to push for increased funding through the appropriations process.

Foreign Assistance Reform

  • The same week Congress passed the Global Food Security Act, it also passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (H.R. 3766), sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Gerry Connelly (D-Va.), as well as Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). The legislation was signed into law by President Obama on July 15.
  • Bread strongly supported this bipartisan legislation. It will now codify important reforms to ensure that U.S. government agencies involved in foreign assistance are focused on rigorous and consistent monitoring and evaluation of programs and on making comprehensive, timely, and comparable aid data publicly available. By reinforcing its existing commitments to transparency and evaluation through legislation, the U.S. government can better track, measure, and allocate scarce aid resources.
  • Bread has been working on making U.S. foreign assistance more accountable for nearly a decade, and foreign assistance reform was the focus of both the 2009 and 2011 Offering of Letters campaigns.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization

  • Advocacy on child nutrition and summer meals bills throughout 2015 resulted in a bipartisan Senate Agriculture Committee child nutrition bill in January 2016. The Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 (S.3136) overall met our 2015 Offering of Letters asks to continue investments in child nutrition programs, improve children’s access to feeding programs, and to ensure improvements were not paid for by cuts to other vital safety-net programs. Many of the positive provisions included in the bill mirrored policies Bread advocated on throughout 2015. For example, the bill includes provisions to streamline summer and after-school meal programs, allow some states to provide summer electronic benefits transfer, and allow some states to provide alternative summer meal delivery. Additionally, the bill increases the WIC eligibility age through age 5 for children who are 5 but not yet enrolled in kindergarten. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) hope to pass their bipartisan bill by unanimous consent sometime this year.
  • The House Education and Workforce Committee considered and passed a partisan child nutrition bill in April and May. The Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016 (H.R. 5003) would make it more difficult for children to access school meal programs in particular. In addition to changes to community eligibility and increased school meal application verification, the bill also includes a block grant proposal.
  • In the fall, Congress is still expecting to consider final passage of child nutrition reauthorization legislation. Bread and its partners will work with congressional champions to pass strong  legislation that will increase access to healthy meals for low-income kids.  

Budget & Appropriations

  • Despite attempts by the House of Representatives to pass a budget resolution including likely cuts to SNAP and other low-income programs, Republican leadership was unable to muster the votes to pass a resolution. The FY 2017 appropriations process began moving forward this spring, adhering to the spending cap of $1.07 trillion agreed to in the bipartisan budget agreement passed at the end of 2015. However, the likelihood of Congress passing a budget by Sept. 30 is very unlikely due to the few legislative days left to pass spending bills after returning from the summer recess. What is certain is that Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the end of the fiscal year. It is unknown how long the CR will last and what form the spending bill will take, i.e., omnibus or “cromnibus” (combination of a long-term omnibus spending bill and a shorter-term continuing resolution).
  • During the appropriations process, we track two bills that include domestic and international anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs – Agriculture Appropriations and State & Foreign Operations Appropriations:

Agriculture Appropriations

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees passed their respective Agriculture Appropriations bills this spring. Agriculture appropriations bills fund domestic nutrition programs as well as international food-aid programs. Both FY 2017 Agriculture Appropriations bills fund WIC at $6.35 billion, which is level funding compared to FY 2016 and sufficient to meet caseloads for FY 2017. Both chambers also funded summer electronic benefit transfer demonstration projects, with the House providing $21 million and the Senate $23 million.

On the international side, the House provided level funding for Food for Peace (P.L. 480) and the McGovern-Dole child nutrition program. The House did not fund the Local and Regional Purchase program and included anti-food aid reform language in its committee report. The Senate provided $1.6 billion for P.L. 480, $250 million above the president’s request. The Senate also included $10 million for the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement program authorized in the farm bill.

Neither bill has come to the House or Senate floor for a full vote.

State and Foreign Operations Appropriations

The House subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations marked up its FY 2017 appropriations bill July 6, and it passed in full committee on July 12. In total, the bill provides $52 billion in both regular discretionary and Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. This total is $595 million below the FY 2016 enacted level and $691 million below the president’s request for these programs. Within this amount, OCO funding totals $14.9 billion, equal to the FY 2016 enacted level. Despite the overall decrease, the House increased funding for Global Health (USAID) and maintained funding for nutrition and development-assistance programs.

Now that both chambers have passed their bills out of committee, we expect that the two committees will come together in the next few months to settle the differences in conference.

Mass Incarceration

  • The year began with strong momentum for the passage of criminal justice reform legislation. The House Judiciary Committee passed a number of bills late last year, such as the Sentencing Reform Act, Smarter Sentencing Act, and others. The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed its own legislation, S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
  • In 2016, Bread’s primary focus has been to increase the number of cosponsors of the Senate bill.  By the end of May, more than 30 senators had cosponsored the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), almost half of whom are Republican. However, despite strong bipartisan support for the bill, the window of opportunity is shrinking fast. Advocates are pushing Senate leadership to bring the SRCA (S. 2123) to the floor for a vote.
  • We continue to focus on getting Republicans, particularly moderates up for reelection in swing states, to cosponsor the SRCA and to get all senators to support voting on and passing the SRCA.
  • There is some division in the Republican Party over support for the SRCA. While many Republicans support the bill, a vocal minority opposes the bill. We have heard there are other Republicans who don’t necessarily oppose the bill but would prefer to not have to publicly vote on it during an election year. Our understanding is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unlikely to move the bill unless there is unanimous support from his caucus. 
  • In order to show strong support from constituents, faith leaders have been meeting with congressional offices, both at home and in Washington, D.C. Bread leaders have met with House and Senate leadership, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
  • Meanwhile, the House is still prepared to pass criminal justice legislation in September. Bread and its partners will be meeting with targeted House offices in August and early September to urge support of the legislation. 

Act Now!

Congress is in recess until September. Visit our 2016 elections web page for tips and resources on engaging your members of Congress this election season.

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