Levin, Moore Lead 95 House Members Urging Commonsense Flexibility for WIC Use During COVID-19 Crisis

May 8, 2020
Press Release

Congressman Andy Levin, vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, today joined Congresswoman Gwen Moore in leading a letter signed by 95 House Members to the USDA urging the agency to wave certain restrictions on the use of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) funds during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m happy to partner with champion of the WIC program Congresswoman Gwen Moore in the effort to urge the Administration to minimize risk to recipients by allowing the use of WIC for purchases made online and over-the-phone,” Rep. Levin said. “As all Americans do their part to maintain social distancing and limit in-person transactions, we should enable WIC recipients to protect themselves and others by waving these restrictions.”

“As a long time advocate for the WIC program, I'm so pleased to work with Rep. Levin and my colleagues to push for the federal government to permit online or phone purchases for WIC recipients, which will lessen the burden on mothers and children and help keep them safe,” Congresswoman Moore said. “This is just one of many commonsense improvements that I believe we need to make this program work better during these trying times.

“As we adapt to living during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's critical that we continue finding ways for our most vulnerable to easily access the resources they need."

In addition to Reps. Levin and Moore, signers of the letter include:

Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (NC-12); Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44); Joyce Beatty (OH-03); Earl Blumenauer (OR-03); Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-AL); Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01); Anthony G. Brown (MD-04); Tony Cárdenas (CA-29); André Carson (IN-07); Ed Case (HI-01); Joaquin Castro (TX-20); David N. Ciclline (RI-01); Steve Cohen (TN-09); TJ Cox (CA-21); Angie Craig (MN-02); Henry Cuellar  (TX-28); Danny K. Davis (IL-07); Diana DeGette (CO-01); Suzan DelBene (WA-01); Val B. Demings (FL-10); Ted Deutch (FL-22); Debbie Dingell (MI-12); Eliot L. Engel (NY-16); Andriano Espaillat (NY-13); Brian Fitzpatrick  (PA-01); Bill Foster (IL-11); Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11); Sylvia R. Garcia (TX-29); Jesús G. "Chuy" García (IL-04); Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15); Jenniffer González-Colón (PR-00); Raúl M. Grijalva  (AZ-03); Deb Haaland (NM-01); Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20); Jahana Hayes (CT-05); Kendra S. Horn (OK-05); Shelia Jackson Lee (TX-18); Pramila Jayapal (WA-07); Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08); Bill Keating (MA-09); Joseph P. Kennedy, III  (MA-04); Derek Kilmer (WA-06); Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08); Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02); Brenda L. Lawrence (MI 14); Barbara Lee (CA-13); Alan Lowenthal (CA 47); Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08); Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12); Roger Marshall, M.D. (KS-01); Betty McCollum (MN-04); A. Donald McEachin  (VA-04); James P. McGovern (MA-02); Jerry McNerney (CA-09); Gregory W. Meeks (NY-05); Grace Meng (NY 06); Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26); Jerrold Nadler  (NY-10); Grace F. Napolitano  (CA-32); Joe Neguse (CO-02); Donald Norcross (NJ-01 ); Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC - 00); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14); Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06); Jimmy Panetta (CA-20); Ed Perlmutter (CO-07); Jamie Raskin (MD-08); Cedric L. Richmond (LA-02); Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40); C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02); Bobby L. Rush (IL-01); Tim Ryan (OH-13); Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38); Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05 ); Jan Schakowsky (IL-09); Donna E. Shalala  (FY-27); Ted W. Lieu (CA-33); Albio Sires (NJ08); Elissa Slotkin (MI-08); Adam Smith (WA-09); Darren Soto  (FL-09); Jackie Speier  (CA-14); Eric Swalwell (CA-15); Mark Takano (CA-41); Bennie Thompson (MS-02); Dina Titus (NV-01); Rashida Tlaib (MI-13); David Trone (MD-06); Lauren Underwood (IL-14); Juan Vargas (CA-51); Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07); Peter Welch (VT-At Large) and John Yarmuth (KY-03).

Read the text of the letter below or see the signed copy here.

 

Administrator Pam Miller

Food and Nutrition Service,

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1320 Braddock Place

Alexandria, VA 22314

 

Administrator Miller:

Thank you for your efforts to ensure that women and children in the WIC program continue to receive benefits amid the COVID-19 public health emergency. We write to urge the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to take additional steps to guarantee the safety of WIC shoppers for the duration of this emergency. Specifically, we request that FNS use the authority granted under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127) to waive restrictions requiring in-person redemption of WIC benefits in the presence of a cashier and permit online or phone purchases with WIC until the conclusion of the COVID-19 crisis.[1]

Scaling up the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot program authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill has improved the shopping experience for families who depend on federal nutrition programs by reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for both shoppers and grocery store employees. We understand that it is not possible at this point to integrate WIC transactions into the SNAP online ordering systems, given key differences between SNAP and WIC benefit disbursement. However, USDA should be proactively exploring and supporting alternative transaction models for WIC, such as self-checkout, curbside pickup, or home delivery, all of which would better protect the health of WIC shoppers, grocery store employees, and their families.

As the SNAP pilot program expands and retailers are offering an array of options for consumers, WIC participants are being left behind. The risks of in-person shopping could deter WIC participation, leaving families without access to vital support throughout pregnancy and early childhood. Some retailers are even closing their doors to in-person shopping and adopting exclusive curbside or delivery models. This could inhibit WIC participant access to authorized vendors within their communities if WIC is excluded in these alternative transaction models.

            It is crucial that the WIC program provides flexibility to safeguard the health of American families while ensuring the continued integrity of the program. As state agencies and retailers develop workable alternative models for purchasing and delivering groceries, we respectfully request that FNS use the authority granted by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to grant limited waivers to ensure the WIC program has the flexibility to adapt and ensure families have safe shopping experiences.

            We appreciate your consideration of this request and we look forward to your response.

 

                                                                        Sincerely,                       

                                                                        [MEMBERS OF CONGRESS]

 

[1] For the purposes of this request, we respectfully ask that you follow the determination of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to define the “conclusion” of this public health emergency.