WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fresh, white potatoes would finally be included in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children under a proposed $1.01 trillion spending bill that Congress is expected to consider this week, according to the National Potato Council.
The spending bill, released late Tuesday, would fund the federal government through September. For the U.S. potato industry, it would change a policy that has long singled out spuds as the only fresh fruit or vegetable ineligible for WIC, intended to address nutritional deficiencies of low-income pregnant or nursing mothers and their young children.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill Dec. 11, with the Senate expected to take action sometime thereafter, said NPC Executive Vice President John Keeling.
“It appears it’s likely that the bill will pass, but you don’t know until it’s done,” Keeling said. “We’re glad to see that it looks like it’s moving maybe toward a conclusion.”
Keeling said the WIC language was inserted in the House and Senate appropriations committees. The argument for excluding spuds has been that WIC mothers already consume enough of them.
The potato industry has lobbied for eight years against that logic.
“It just makes sense that WIC mothers would have access to fresh, white potatoes because they contain potassium and fiber in valuable amounts, and potassium and fiber are two of the nutrients WIC mothers are deficient in,” Keeling said. He said potatoes are affordable and enable program participants, who are given vouchers for purchases, to get a lot of nutrition while stretching out taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, he said WIC is considered an educational program, and excluding potatoes sends the wrong message to a vulnerable population.
“We need to send an appropriate signal relative to what the nutrition of fresh, white potatoes is,” Keeling said.