Farm bills preserve foreign food assistance programs
by Jay Sjerven
WASHINGTON — Farm bills passed by the Senate and House agriculture committees rejected President Barack Obama’s proposals to fundamentally change how the United States provides food assistance abroad.
The agriculture committees reaffirmed their control over the structure of US foreign food aid programs and would preserve the Food for Peace program (P.L. 480 Title II), the principal vehicle through which the US government and people have provided food assistance to the poor and hungry abroad for nearly 60 years. Currently, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency of the State Department, implements most of the food assistance programs, but the programs and their funding are under the purview of the agriculture committees.
The president’s budget proposed to overhaul US food aid programs by ending P.L. 480 and transferring food aid funding from the US Department of Agriculture into accounts under the aegis of the USAID, whose appropriations are authorized by congressional committees and subcommittees with oversight responsibilities for the State Department.
The president’s goal was to have the flexibility to increase purchases of food in other countries for distribution in emergency situations instead of buying food solely in the United States and then shipping it abroad. The administration maintained by using cash to buy food closer to where emergencies erupt, the United States would be able to provide more assistance because it would save money and time required to purchase only US commodities and ship them giving preference to US flag ships.
The president’s budget for fiscal 2014 would preserve at minimum 55 percent of food aid funding for use in purchasing US food for shipment abroad, but there was no guarantee such levels of support for shipping US-origin food would be sustained in the future.
The agriculture committees made clear they preferred maintaining current food aid programs.
Both the House and Senate bills would increase funding for use in prepositioning US food at strategic points aboard so it may be transported more quickly to emergency outbreaks. The bills would allow up to $15 million to be used each year for this purpose compared with $10 million under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the current farm act.
The Senate bill stated not less than 20 percent but not more than 30 percent of amounts made available for Food for Peace must be expended on nonemergency food assistance programs. This relates mostly to supporting development projects undertaken by USAID and/or private voluntary organizations. The Senate bill went on to state the minimum amount to be made available to carry out nonemergency food assistance programs shall not be less than $275 million for any fiscal year.
The House bill stated “not less than $400 million shall be expended for nonemergency food assistance programs.”
Both bills would reauthorize the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, a school feeding and education program with notable successes abroad.
The Senate bill would authorize the appropriation of $40 million each year through fiscal 2018 for use in direct or local purchase of commodities for use in US assistance programs and suggested projects related to the McGovern-Dole school feeding program be given preference. The House bill contained no provisions related to local or regional purchase.
The House bill would authorize funding of Food for Peace at $2 billion for each of fiscal years 2014 through 2018, a reduction from the $2.5 billion in funding authorized for fiscal years 2008 through 2013 under the current farm act.