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Biden re-nominates Dean and Schlanger to key USDA posts

President Biden nominated Stacy Dean, a member of his administration since its first days, for the second time to serve as Agriculture undersecretary for nutrition, a post that has been vacant since the Obama era. The president also re-nominated Margo Schlanger, a long-time civil rights activist, for assistant secretary for civil rights at USDA.

Dean and Schlanger were among the second wave of nominees re-submitted to the Senate. The list included Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, for four posts including U.S. governor of the IMF.

“The White House hopes the Senate will take action expeditiously,” said an administration statement on Tuesday. The Senate adjourned last year without taking action on the original nominations. Schlanger spent all of 2022 waiting for a floor vote. Dean, nominated last May, was not called for a confirmation hearing.

If confirmed, Dean would oversee public nutrition programs, such at SNAP and school lunch, that cost an estimated $200 billion in fiscal 2022 and amounted to three-fourths of USDA outlays. Spending on public nutrition was boosted as part of the federal response to the pandemic. Outlays are beginning to wind down.

“In her time as deputy undersecretary, Stacy has sought to increase nutrition assistance for struggling Americans, ensure all children have access to healthy meals at school, and tackle barriers ingrained within nutrition programs,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Dean joined the administration in January 2021 as deputy undersecretary, the top-ranking official now in place in USDA’s nutrition arm, after working at the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the OMB.

Sen. Rick Scott filed a bill to reinstate and expand SNAP work requirements on Tuesday. “I believe that any able-bodied, working-age adult who receives government benefits ought to work,” said the Florida Republican. Work requirements were suspended during the pandemic.

Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work Act,” would apply to so-called ABAWDs — able-bodied adults without dependents — ages 18-59, which is up from the current ages of 18-49. ABAWDs are limited to three months of SNAP benefits in a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week or spend equivalent time in job training or workfare. More generally, SNAP recipients are told to look for work and accept appropriate employment if offered.

The Club for Growth, a proponent of free enterprise and limited government, said it hoped “this legislation continues the discussion on work requirements as Congress considers reauthorization of the farm bill in 2023.” Politico said Senate Republicans might demand SNAP work requirements in exchange for raising the federal debt limit.

Kevin Concannon, who served under President Obama, was the last person to win Senate confirmation as nutrition undersecretary. Brandon Lipps was the Trump administration leader at USDA on public nutrition and worked as administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service and later as deputy undersecretary. Lipps was nominated for undersecretary in December 2019, with a little more than a year left in Trump’s tenure.

Schlanger told senators during a November 2021 confirmation hearing that she would build “a civil rights culture” at USDA if confirmed as assistant secretary. “There is no place at USDA for discrimination.” The USDA has acknowledged decades of racial bias and has paid $2.3 billion since 1999 in settlements with Black and Native American farmers.

Schlanger was co-founder of the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse and headed the civil rights office of the Department of Homeland Security for two years during the Obama era.

06 Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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