Appropriations bill offers full funding for WIC and role for USDA on CFIUS

The Women, Infants, and Children program will get a $1 billion increase in funding this year to meet rising food costs and increased enrollment, said leaders of the Senate and House Appropriations committees on Sunday.

Their decision ended a months-long fight over fully funding WIC and rejected an unprecedented proposal by House Republicans to provide additional money for WIC in exchange for a pilot program that would prohibit purchase of junk food with SNAP benefits.

As part of a funding bill covering USDA and six other federal departments, the USDA would become a member, on a case by case basis, of the powerful Treasury-led committee that decides if foreign investments in America pose a national security risk. The USDA would be part of the committee for transactions involving agricultural land, agricultural biotechnology, and the agriculture industry, with particular emphasis on land deals involving China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

Congress was expected to vote on the 1,050-page bill by the end of this week. Otherwise, funding for the USDA and the other departments would expire on Friday at midnight.

The White House asked for an additional $1 billion for WIC last year and said without it, up to 2 million parents and children would be denied benefits by this September as money ran out. House Republicans proposed $6 billion for WIC, the same level as in fiscal 2023. In the past few weeks, Maryland Rep Andy Harris, the Republican who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on USDA and FDA, linked additional WIC funding to a pilot program restricting SNAP purchases to nutrient-dense food.

“States would have been forced to deny families WIC benefits for the first time ever — forced to pick and choose which moms and babies should get help and who should go hungry,” said Senate Appropriations chair Patty Murray, Washington state Democrat. “Few programs are as thoroughly backed by research as WIC and the evidence makes clear: WIC saves lives and it also saves money” in medical, educational and productivity costs.

With full funding, WIC recipients “will keep receiving the full fruit and vegetable benefit” created during the pandemic, said analyst Katie Bergh of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank, on social media. The SNAP pilot “would increase stigma and red tape,” she said. The funding bill had no reference to the SNAP pilot.

Critics of SNAP, which would receive $122 billion for this fiscal year, criticize its cost and say it should encourage healthier diets.

Many farm-state lawmakers have called for action to prevent land sales to “adversary nations” such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran during a period of increased rivalry with China and U.S. opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Legislation was pending in Congress to strengthen USDA’s voice before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The panel has the power to impose conditions on foreign investments or block them altogether.

The Treasury Department chairs CFIUS and its members include the State, Defence, Justice, and Homeland Security departments. The appropriations bill would make the USDA a member on a case by case basis “with respect to each covered transaction … involving agricultural land, agriculture biotechnology, or the agriculture industry (including agricultural transportation, agricultural storage, and agricultural processing).” The USDA would notify CFIUS of land transactions “that may post a risk to the national security,” particularly if they involve China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Foreign ownership of U.S. farmland is a keenly followed issue. At the start of this year, Missouri Gov Mike Parson announced a ban on purchase of agricultural land in Missouri by citizens and businesses from six nations — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela — if the property lays within 10 miles of critical military facilities, such as Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base. Missouri state law limits foreign ownership to a maximum of 1 percent of its agricultural land.

Some 43.4 million acres, or 3.4 percent, of U.S. agricultural land is owned or leased by foreign entities, according to USDA data.

House Appropriations chairwoman Kay Granger, a Texas Republican, said the “minibus” funding bill would spend $100 billion less than President Biden requested. “The bills represent the first overall cut to non-defense, non-VA spending in almost a decade,” she said.

For a summary of USDA-FDA funding, click here.

To read the explanatory statement on USDA-FDA funding, click here.

The text of the 150-page appropriations bill is available here.