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Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty

Representing the 5th District of Connecticut

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Esty, DeLauro Call for Protection of Family Nutrition Programs

July 31, 2018
Press Release
Letter highlights concerns regarding oversight of federal nutrition programs

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Today, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) sent a letter to Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Policy, to express their concerns regarding the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposal to transfer and reorganize the oversight of non-commodity nutrition programs including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

Esty and DeLauro, along with several of their House colleagues, sent the letter raising arguments against the proposed reorganization due to the detrimental impact it will have on families who use the program to secure healthy food and other resources and services. There are concerns that the proposed reshuffling of the programs could result in the loss of vital nutrition and health services programs that would leave a number of families without the help they need and result in a lack of access for program participants to maintain a healthy diet. A deficient diet can adversely impact a young child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive growth, while also posing a greater risk for obesity and chronic health conditions in adults. Undernutrition in children can also contribute to severely impacting their ability to learn, thereby endangering their future academic performance and emotional and social development.  

“The recommendation to consolidate certain nutrition assistance programs under HHS is unmistakably an assault on low-income individuals, working families, and women and children,” wrote the Members.  “OMB’s plan to develop a Council on Public Assistance within the DHPW to develop uniform work requirements on all public assistance programs, including nutrition programs, is unjustified and unwise.  Across the board implementation of work requirements without consideration for the unique needs of varying program participants such as breastfeeding mothers and new mothers with infants, demonstrates a total lack of consideration and understanding by this Administration about the needs and challenges of program participants.”

“We firmly believe that the proposal to move the non-commodity nutrition programs to HHS stigmatizes program participants, fails to contemplate the needs and challenges of program participants, and ultimately, will lead to program ineffectiveness and increased administrative costs.  The non-commodity food programs are best suited for administration by USDA where they currently reside.  We strongly urge OMB to reconsider its proposed reorganization,” the Members continued.

Esty and DeLauro also highlighted the fact that farmers are also key participants in non-commodity nutrition assistance programs who will be impacted by the changes. Due to the close relationship between farmers who sell directly to program participants and the participants themselves, Esty and DeLauro believe the USDA, which has the most knowledge and experience working with farmers, is best suited to oversee such nutrition programs.  Moving these programs to HHS will make coordination between farming and nutrition programs challenging, resulting in a weakened agricultural economy and lack of access to nutritious foods. This also puts nutrition programs at risk for cuts, ultimately hurting participants and farmers. In May 2018, Esty called on her colleagues to find a better, balanced, and bipartisan approach that funds essential agriculture and food programs after the 2018 Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARM) Act cut $23 billion from the SNAP program over the next ten years
 
A copy of the letter can be found below and here:

Mick Mulvaney
Director
The Office of Management and Budget
Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Room 256
1650 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Mulvaney:

We write to express our concerns regarding the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposal to transfer the non-commodity nutrition programs including the; Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

We believe that the consolidation of these nutrition programs under the Department of Health and Public Welfare (DHPW), HHS, is misguided.  This proposal is an attack on low-income individuals and families, fails to contemplate the needs of program participants, is an inefficient way to administer the programs, and will ultimately hurt America’s farmers and the U.S. agricultural economy.  We strongly oppose the reorganization of these programs and urge OMB to reconsider the proposal. 

The recommendation to consolidate certain nutrition assistance programs under HHS is unmistakably an assault on low-income individuals, working families, and women and children.  OMB’s plan to develop a Council on Public Assistance within the DHPW to develop uniform work requirements on all public assistance programs, including nutrition programs, is unjustified and unwise.  Across the board implementation of work requirements without consideration for the unique needs of varying program participants such as breastfeeding mothers and new mothers with infants, demonstrates a total lack of consideration and understanding by this Administration about the needs and challenges of program participants.  

Some nutrition programs, such as WIC, do not and should not have work requirements as the purpose of this program is to ensure the health of nutritionally at-risk pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and young children through nutrition counseling, referrals to health care, and access to nutritious foods.  Restricting access to nutritious foods or health care services for expectant mothers is damaging not only to the health and wellbeing of the mother, but also her unborn child. 

Likewise, inadequate nutrition for infants and young children has negative effects that may be irreversible.  A deficient diet can adversely impact a young child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive growth.  Lack of proper nutrition can put children at greater risk for obesity and chronic health conditions as adults, impact their ability to learn and therefore endanger their future academic performance, and stunt their emotional and social development.  These are just some of the long-lasting and proven consequences of undernutrition in children.  

Additionally, by naming this HHS division the “Department of Health and Public Welfare,” the Administration is stigmatizing participants’ use of these critical safety net programs.  These programs are not welfare programs and OMB’s attempt to label them as such is demeaning and undermines the original intent and the spirit of the programs – an economic stabilizer for all Americans.  

Federal food assistance policy dates back to the Great Depression – a time when much of the population was suffering through one of our country’s greatest financial crises.  One of the first federal food assistance programs was aimed at helping farmers by bolstering farm incomes to make up for depressed crop prices due to oversupply.  The federal government purchased farm surplus production via the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC) and distributed the food to low-income families.  This program laid the groundwork for many of the contemporary food assistance programs, including SNAP.  To this day, SNAP provides nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families while significantly benefitting and strengthening the U.S. agricultural economy.
The non-commodity nutrition assistance programs serve not only the program participants, but also, our farmers.  Nutrition programs and the farmers who grow the food that is ultimately purchased by program participants, are intrinsically intertwined and the management of these programs is most efficiently administered under the agency with the most knowledge and experience working with farmers – USDA.  Moving these programs to HHS will make coordination between farming and nutrition programs challenging, put nutrition programs at risk for cuts, and ultimately hurt participants and farmers resulting in a weakened agricultural economy and lack of access to nutritious foods. This does not have to be the outcome. 

We firmly believe that the proposal to move the non-commodity nutrition programs to HHS stigmatizes program participants, fails to contemplate the needs and challenges of program participants, and ultimately, will lead to program ineffectiveness and increased administrative costs.  The non-commodity food programs are best suited for administration by USDA where they currently reside.  We strongly urge OMB to reconsider its proposed reorganization.  

Sincerely, 

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