Connecting state and local government leaders
The deal, though, doesn’t include funding for two critical programs for low-income people.
A deal agreed upon by House and Senate leaders over the weekend would prevent a government shutdown on Friday if passed by Congress. The short-term spending deal would provide enough funding to keep part of the government open until March 1 and the rest until March 8.
But the deal—which would be the third one passed since Oct. 1 if successful—would leave unaddressed funding for two critical programs for low-income people: one deemed essential to helping more than 21 million people afford internet access and the other vital in providing food and nutrition to women and children.
Funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program is on track to end in April, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Because the deal, known as a continuing resolution, provides no additional funding for the ACP, the FCC said last week it will have to begin “winding it down.” The millions on the program will get a notice by Jan. 25 warning them they may soon stop receiving the $30-a-month subsidy. People hoping to sign up for the program will be turned away starting Feb. 7.
“We are working hard to show members of Congress that additional funding for the ACP funding is urgently needed,” an FCC spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Peter Welch said Wednesday that the Vermont Democrat is hoping Congress will pass a standalone measure to provide $7 billion in funding to keep the program running through the end of 2024. Welch is part of a bipartisan group of four senators and two members of the House who are pushing the legislation.
That Congress’ inability to resolve their differences will mean people will not be able to sign up for the program is concerning to the nation’s mayors. The program impacts “equity and fairness in underserved communities,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said at the U.S. Conference Mayors’ annual winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
Harrell led a group of 174 mayors in sending a letter to congressional leaders on Tuesday urging them to fund the program.
“I’m glad I’m in the other Washington,” Harrell said, when asked by Route Fifty what he thinks of the constant impasse in Congress.
That the program is in jeopardy is also frustrating to advocates who argue that without access to the internet, low-income people are less able to perform important tasks like looking for jobs, paying their bills or seeing a doctor remotely.
“What I really want to say includes a string of swear words,” said Angela Seifer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
The continuing resolution also doesn’t provide additional funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. That increases the prospect that states may have to begin turning away women seeking help.
As food prices have skyrocketed, the number of women and children who are receiving help through the program has grown by 400,000 people this year, which is much more than anticipated. To keep up with the demand, the Agriculture Department and states have had to spend the current year’s funding for the program at a faster rate.
As a result, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters last week that the department is on pace to fall $1 billion short of being able to continue sending funding for the program to states through the end of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Vilsack estimated the funding will run out in mid-August.
States will likely have enough money on hand to continue offering the assistance until at least Congress reaches its next deadline in March, said Katie Bergh, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told Route Fifty.
But as time goes on and no additional funding is provided, Vilsack warned states may have to start turning away some of the 10,000 pregnant women and new mothers who apply for help each month. The first people who would be turned away would be non-breastfeeding postpartum women, he said. Next, children between the ages of 1 and 5 who do not have high-risk medical issues would be rejected.
Roughly 2 million people could be denied help by states by September, according to an analysis last month co-authored by Bergh.
“The longer that Congress delays fully funding WIC, the greater the uncertainty for states and the greater the risk to low-income parents and young children,” she said.
The continuing resolution will need to pass both the House and Senate before Friday at 11:59 p.m. to avoid a partial government shutdown.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Kery_Murakami