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Potential Effects of Government Shutdown on State Public Health: Government Shutdown Could Impact WIC

September 30,2013

In the event of a federal government shutdown at midnight tonight, there are a few clarifications we have received from the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on the status of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. Should the government shut down, current benefits would still be available via the recipients electronic benefits transfer card. The balance on the cards would still remain, and the participant can continue to use the card as they please. While the cards will remain active, monthly allotments, or the reloading of funds on the cards, would be delayed if these allotments were to fall within the shutdown window. Additionally, WIC clinics would not be open, and there remains uncertainty on what would happen to recipients who need to renew benefits - it is assumed that renewal would also be delayed.  Additionally, the USDA released a contingency plan document in the event of a lapse in federal funding beginning tomorrow that explains a little more on the status of the WIC program.

Shutdown Facts and Scenarios

With a potential government shutdown just hours away, the decision on the path forward will lie squarely with House leadership.  The House sent back the Senate-passed continuing resolution (CR) to the Senate on Sunday, attaching language to delay the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act by one year, repeal the medical device tax (which funds part of the ACA), and push the CR funding date back to December 15.  The Senate is considered this amended legislation earlier today, and removed the House delay language, therefore sending it back to the House of Representatives with just a funding level and end date included in the language. At this point, House Speaker Boehner will likely have three primary options to choose from:


• The first option is to accept this "clean" Senate CR (simply a funding level and a date, with extraneous language removed), a move that would be unpopular with his Republican conference and thus require Democratic votes to pass.  This route hinges upon whether the Speaker believes that the blame for a government shutdown would fall squarely on the shoulders of Republicans, and if he could convince Republicans that they could revisit the ACA defunding issue during the debt ceiling debate. 


• The second option would be to re-attach language to delay the individual mandate by a year or repeal the medical device tax, or some other provisions.  This appears to be the most likely move, as Speaker Boehner has now twice decided to prioritize the defunding of the ACA.   Some Republicans are hopeful that at least the medical device tax repeal can survive the Senate floor due to an earlier 79-20 Senate vote this year to repeal this medical device tax; however, in public statements Senator Reid has reiterated that the Senate will not waver on any aspect of implementing the ACA, and the CR is not the venue for an ACA policy debate. 


• The third option would be for the House to send the Senate a new, even shorter-term (one week) CR that would buy time for the two chambers to negotiate a longer CR in the coming days.  This would have to be a clean CR, with only a date change, if there is any chance for the Senate to approve the bill a second time today and avoid a shutdown.


So, as we come down to the final hours of a possible shutdown, there is still no clear path on how the either chamber of Congress will handle the situation, nor is it clear how long a shutdown would last should we reach that point. Once things become more clear we will update as necessary.If you have any questions, contact Chris Gould, Director of Federal Government Relations at ASTHO.