Letter to Sonny Perdue, Department of Agriculture Secretary - Harder Leads Bipartisan Coalition to Protect Food and Health Care Access for Women and Children in Need
Dear Secretary Perdue,
Thank you for your efforts to ensure continued access to federal nutrition programs throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency. We are writing regarding the waivers issued to state agencies for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These waivers permit WIC agencies to establish remote recertification for applicants, expand available food options through product substitutions, and remotely issue benefits either through mail, remote loading of an EBT card, or drive-through clinics. We applaud your agency's extension of these critical waivers to June 30, 2020, and additionally, request that you extend them once again to September 30, 2020, consistent with the authority granted under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
States and localities require flexibility to ensure public safety during the crisis. The decision of when and how to reopen is being made at the state and local level, with governors, mayors, and county supervisors working to determine the best way forward for each community. State and local governments and frontline providers need the certainty of knowing that necessary flexibilities will not expire before a reopening plan is put into place, an outcome that would force low-income women and children to have to choose between vital nutrition support or their family's own health and safety.
WIC, like many programs that support low-income Americans, is in a period of increased demand. In California alone, there's been more than a 10 percent increase in participation in WIC over the past two months. Those new participants will need to be certified -- a process that the waivers allow to be conducted virtually or telephonically. WIC programs across the country need to know that they're going to be able to meet the additional demand for the remainder of the crisis while still maintaining safety precautions and that their existing participants won't need to put themselves at unnecessary risk to recertify their eligibility in the future.
Frontline WIC providers need time to put safety precautions in place, which includes making structural modifications to clinics to accommodate for social distancing and procuring protective equipment, which has proved increasingly difficult given widespread demand. Many state agencies are also planning phased reopening, which would require extensions of the waiver to limit initial clinic-based activities to maintain the safety of both participating families and clinic staff.
Most importantly, women and children who receive WIC benefits -- particularly ones receiving benefits for the first time - need the stability of knowing that this program will be there for them whether or not they feel safe leaving their homes. This is a time of unprecedented crisis in every aspect of Americans' lives, and we need to show them that we're going to be there for them. We have the ability to provide this relief in full, not in piecemeal, and that is why we urge you to extend these waivers to September 30, 2020 -- the maximum time permitted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
We appreciate your time and consideration and look forward to working with you in the future.