The Agriculture Department proposed an update to the WIC program on Thursday that would let participants buy three, or even four, times as many fruits and vegetables and would broaden the range of foods available through the program to reflect the diversity of the American diet. The expansion of fruit and vegetable allowances would increase WIC spending by 14 percent and require Congress to appropriate additional money to the $6 billion-a-year program.
Just over a week after the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, a group of policymakers and advocates outlined what it will take to make the Biden administration’s goal of ending hunger and reducing diet-related disease by 2030 a reality.
The number of children participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) increased by 8.7 percent during the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Food Research & Action Center.
More than 60 percent of consumers across the political spectrum support increasing government support for both farmers and food assistance as a response to inflation, according to a survey released last week by the University of Illinois. Liberals had the highest rates of support for both, with 90.2 percent supporting increased funding for food programs and 85.3 percent supporting increased funding for farmers, the Gardner Food and Agricultural Policy Survey found. Conservatives had lower levels of support for both, but 64.4 percent still supported increased funding for food programs and 66.4 percent, increased funding for farmers.
With the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health weeks away, a broad group of advocates, academics and experts on Tuesday called for "radical systemic changes" in order to address food insecurity, diet-related disease and health inequities.(No paywall)
With shortages continuing in parts of the country, the USDA extended on Tuesday a series of waivers that give WIC households additional options for buying infant formula. The waivers were set to expire on Sept. 30 but now would run through the end of the year.
More children would be eligible for free school meals and the WIC program would cover children up to age 6 under legislation approved on a party-line vote by the House Education and Labor Committee on Wednesday. While the bill’s Democratic sponsors claimed it will reduce child hunger, Republican Rep. Lisa McClain said it “is chock-full of new spending” when austerity is needed to dampen high inflation.
The food stamp program is a buy "whatever you want to buy" program, including soft drinks, said former agriculture secretary Ann Veneman on Monday, while advocating that benefits be limited to nutritious foods. "What some of us have argued (is) that this food stamp program ought to look a lot more like the WIC program and truly be a nutrition program."
While Republicans objected to the cost of public nutrition programs such as SNAP, the leader of the House Appropriations Committee said on Wednesday that “we will be doing something about extending the waivers of the school meals programs.” The waivers, a response to the pandemic that allows free meals for all public school students, are due to expire on June 30.
U.S. infant formula makers are revving up production and the door is open to imported formula, so “we should see improvement in a matter of days” from shortages nationwide, FDA commissioner Robert Califf said Thursday on Capitol Hill. Califf also said he would strengthen food safety procedures at the agency, though key lawmakers argued he was not going far enough.
President Biden invoked his executive powers on Wednesday to give infant formula manufacturers first call on ingredients, and announced Operation Fly Formula, which would carry formula from overseas suppliers to the United States. Both steps were aimed at alleviating shortages that followed the shutdown of a large formula plant in Michigan, where FDA inspectors found bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote this week on emergency legislation to relax some WIC regulations on infant formula, now in short supply, "so that we can get nutrition into the mouths of America's babies." Through WIC, the government buys about half of the infant formula sold in the country.
The Biden administration extended the Covid-19 public health emergency on Wednesday, keeping increased nutrition benefits for millions of families in place for the coming months.
Food stamp enrollment will remain high well into 2023 due to the lingering effects of the pandemic and its disruption of the U.S. economy, said the Agriculture Department in its proposed budget for the new fiscal year. It estimated an average 43.5 million people would receive food stamps during fiscal 2023, a 3 percent increase from this year.
Pandemic-fighting waivers that allow schools to serve meals for free to all students will expire on June 30, House and Senate appropriators agreed on Wednesday, despite a campaign to continue universal free meals in the upcoming 2022-23 school year. An anti-hunger advocate said that millions of children will “face a hunger cliff when they lose access to summer and school meals.”
With a massive recall of infant formula underway, the USDA encouraged state and tribal officials on Wednesday to ensure that WIC recipients could exchange their recalled baby formula and use their WIC benefits to buy replacement products. Abbott announced a recall of three of its formula brands last week.
Since last spring, participants in WIC, the federal government’s health and nutritional safety net for low-income parents, infants and children, have been getting about three times as much as they normally get to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. The temporary benefit boost, designed to address food and nutrition insecurity during the pandemic, has increased fruit and vegetable consumption among participating children and spurred more than $1 billion in spending, according to a new report from the National WIC Association.(No paywall)
Even before Covid-19 hit, disabled people were at greater risk of food insecurity because of higher rates of unemployment, lower earnings, and transportation and accessibility barriers. The pandemic only exacerbated these disparities. In 2020, disabled adults were twice as likely to be food insecure as adults without disabilities.
The government should permanently adopt the innovations of the pandemic that made school meals available when classrooms were idle and allowed WIC interviews by phone and video rather than requiring applicants to appear in person, said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow on Thursday.