Simpson provision in budget law restores spuds to WIC food program

Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson used his clout as a top appropriator to get white potatoes back on the list of vegetables eligible for purchase under the $6.5 billion Women, Infants and Children (WIC) voucher program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the Wall Street Journal.

White potatoes — which include potatoes of every skin color, excepting sweet potatoes  — have been barred from purchase by 8.7 million consumers since the USDA said in the mid-2000s that people were eating enough of them already.

The typical American gobbles about 100 pounds of spuds a year, but the figure has declined since USDA’s WIC ban, in part because of widespread badmouthing of carbohydrates.

Simpson inserted an 85-word provision in the 1,582-page 2014 omnibus budget bill that President Obama signed Friday. The paragraph instructs USDA to allow WIC beneficiaries to purchase any veggie they like, including potatoes. If Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declines to institute the change, he must submit a report to Congress within 15 days explaining himself.

“USDA takes this language seriously and will conduct the evaluation expected by Congress,” USDA spokeswoman Brooke Hardison told the Journal.

Growers and lawmakers from potato-growing states and have long pressed to restore the good name of the potato. In 2012, 100 members of Congress wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to “carefully reconsider the decision to exclude white potatoes” wrote the Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson.

Simpson is one of 12 “cardinals” who chairs a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, giving him special access to insert such provisions.

Simpson first secured House passage of his amendment in the Agriculture appropriations bill. Based on that provision, the report for the omnibus spending law included the following:

“The agreement expects the Secretary to amend 7 CFR 246.10 in order for state agencies to include all varieties of fresh, whole, or cut vegetables, except for vegetables with added sugars, fats, oils; provided that inclusion of such vegetables contribute towards meeting the special nutritional needs of program participants and increases the availability of low-cost, high nutrient alternatives for participants throughout the year. Within 15 days of any decision not to comply, the Secretary shall submit a report to the Committees explaining such decision.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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