Washington Update: Week of February 1

February 2, 2016
Washington Update

Wondering if advocacy works?

First, here’s proof that advocacy works – especially if you thank your member of Congress (including a photo of cute kids or kittens doesn’t hurt either).

One of Bread’s organizers, Zach Schmidt, reached out to his congressman, Randy Hultgren (R-14-Ill.), asking him to cosponsor the Global Food Security Act. After Rep. Hultgren signed on, Schmidt posted a thank you picture with his children on Facebook. And Hultgren responded. Remember, faithful advocacy works.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization

  • The Senate’s bill reauthorizing child nutrition programs, the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016, passed strongly out of the Senate Agriculture committee by voice vote on Jan 20. Remarks from senators on both sides of the aisle were very supportive. This gives Senate Agriculture leadership more weight to push Senate leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a full Senate vote (no word when yet).
  • The House is working on its own bill, but there are no details on its contents or timeline yet. Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) has multiple other priorities for the Education committee this year, but with the Senate bill moving, it could push the House to move a bill.

Global Food Security Act/Feed the Future

  • Currently still 115 cosponsors in the House. 
  • In the House, we expect the bill to be filed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week. From there, we will see if it gets a referral to the House Agriculture Committee. If it doesn’t, we hope to see the bill up on the floor of the House, potentially next week. From there, we would go onto the Senate and look for a path forward with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We might see movement in this committee in late February.

Budget & Appropriations

  • The president is expected to release his fiscal year 2017 budget on Feb. 9.
  • The Bipartisan Budget Act passed last year sets the top-line budget numbers for FY 2017. Thus, Budget Committee chairmen in the House and Senate could choose to forego releasing annual budget blueprints and instead head straight into the appropriations process.
  • However, we are hearing that the House Budget Committee is considering releasing a budget this year. If so, there is high probability that the House budget would include proposals that we would consider problematic, such as block granting SNAP and cutting other anti-poverty programs. 

Quick background: The annual budget sets the top-line number (the size of the pie) and articulates a longer-term vision for spending and revenues. The appropriations process divides up that top-line number among all the different federal programs (slices up the pie).

  • Last week, at a White House summit on U.S. child hunger, the White House announced that the president’s FY 2017 request will include significant funding to permanently expand the Summer EBT (electronic benefits transfer) program.
  • If Congress funds this request, it will help increase access to child nutrition programs during the summer.
  • The president’s request will also build on pilot programs that use Medicaid data to certify eligible children for school meal programs. This would streamline the application process and make it easier for families receiving Medicaid, as those children could be automatically certified, instead of families having to go through the school meal application process.

Mass Incarceration

  • Despite strong bipartisan support, the window of opportunity to pass criminal justice reform is shrinking fast.
  • Advocates are pushing Senate leadership to bring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA), S. 2123, to the floor for a vote. There is some division in the GOP over support for SRCA. While many Republicans support the bill, a vocal minority, including Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Sen. Tom Cotton (Arkansas), oppose it. There are other Republicans who don’t necessarily oppose the bill but would prefer to not have to publicly vote on this bill during an election year.
  • We continue to focus on getting senators to cosponsor SRCA and to push Senate leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

SNAP

  • A new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that more than 500,000 adults will lose SNAP benefits in 2016 as states begin to implement the three-month time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents. This time limit has been part of SNAP law since the 1996 welfare reform, but many states had waived the limit due to high unemployment. This year, the time limit is going into effect for the first time since the recession in 23 states.
  • In Congress, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) have introduced bills to ensure that individuals who are subject to this time limit are offered job slots before having their SNAP benefits terminated for not working sufficient hours.

Act Now!

With the Senate acting on child nutrition legislation, call (800/826-3688) or email your senators and ask them to pass a strong child nutrition bill.

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