While all eyes have been focused on the Senate floor and deliberations on the farm bill, there’s another critical action taking place this week that will have significant impact on nutrition, farm income, and food access. The House Appropriations Committee yesterday approved by voice vote a FY 2013 spending bill to provide $19.4 billion in discretionary spending for USDA, FDA and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). This allocation is about 2 percent less than fiscal 2012 levels, $1.7 billion less than President Obama requested, and about $1.4 billion below spending levels approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 26.
Regarding the nutrition programs, the bill would provide $6.922 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which is an increase of $304 million above FY 2012 levels, but still $119 million less than the President’s request. This may be sufficient to meet caseload depending on the price of food and participation levels over the course of the year. The Senate bill would provide $7.041 billion to WIC, which is equal to the President’s request.
Of particular significance, the Committee approved an amendment offered by Rep. Simpson (R-ID) to allow white potatoes to be eligible for purchase as part of WIC food packages. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote. Further, the bill specifies that USDA cannot “exclude or restrict the eligibility of any variety of fresh, whole, or cut vegetables, except for vegetables with added sugars, fats, or oils, from being provided as supplemental foods under the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children.” This amendment was strongly opposed by Rep. DeLauro (D-CT) for undermining the scientific basis for determining the supplemental foods that are allowable in the program to meet specific nutritional deficiencies for specific vulnerable populations.
Congress has historically not weighed in on the specific foods that may be allowable in the program. Currently, the USDA provides WIC food packages that closely reflect rigorous scientific recommendations provided by the National Academies of Sciences Institute of Medicine (IOM). The Institute of Medicine did not recommend white potatoes in the WIC food packages because these vegetables are currently consumed at least in recommended amounts.
The House will bring up the Agriculture Appropriations bill on the floor next week. To date, the Senate has not set a timeline for when they will bring up their respective bill.