Friday, December 21, 2007

Congress passes funding bills

Barbara Vauthier's selective and tightly written Foodlinks America newsletter from the TEFAP Alliance now seems to be in blog format, with RSS feed and everything.

Here is Foodlinks' latest news on program funding in Congress:
Congressional Democrats and the White House ended a months-long impasse on federal spending on December 19, 2007 with passage of an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008. The legislation combines 11 of the 12 spending bills Congress is required to approve each year to determine government outlays. “Given the President’s refusal to compromise and given the inability of the Senate to produce the 60 votes necessary to move legislation forward, this is the best we can do,” commented Representative David Obey (D-WI), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

With this final action, Congress exited town for the holidays, ending the first session of the 110th Congress. The House will be gone until January 15, 2008 and the Senate is now scheduled to reconvene on January 22, 2008.

The huge $516 billion compromise package included an additional $11 billion over the President’s spending limit, with some of the funds designated as “emergency” needs that were not offset by cuts in other programs or new revenues. The legislation continued most nutrition assistance programs at current levels, though there were some notable exceptions.

The WIC Program, beset by potential shortages from higher food costs, growing caseloads, and declining rebates, was allocated a full $6 billion for fiscal year 2008, an increase of $815.6 million ($400 million of which was designated as emergency spending) over last year. The $6 billion will help WIC maintain a national caseload of 8.55 million participants throughout the year. The omnibus measure also increased funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which the Administration had proposed to eliminate entirely. The CSFP will receive $139.7 million in fiscal 2008, $32.5 million above the fiscal year 2007 appropriation.

Other provisions of the bill: expand, effective immediately, the Simplified Summer Food Service Program to all states, easing paperwork and increasing reimbursements for sponsors; provide an additional $23 million for elderly nutrition programs this year; support a $10 million expansion in the 2008-2009 school year of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, making it available to all states; provide secure funding of $2.475 million annually to the Congressional Hunger Center’s Bill Emerson and Mickey Leland Hunger Fellowship Programs; and fund a Supper Pilot Program in West Virginia under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Though Democrats felt the bill could have been better, they expressed satisfaction with the final outcome. “While the President’s stubborn opposition will deny Americans the full investment they deserve in these priorities, the Democratic budget begins to reverse seven years of neglect and charts a new direction,” concluded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

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