Administration renews effort to secure greater flexibility in food aid
Feb. 11, 2015
by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016 renewed the Obama administration’s efforts to incorporate local and regional purchases of food near international food emergency outbreaks in its foreign assistance toolbox. The USDA budget requested congressional authority to use up to 25% of funds appropriated to provide for P.L.480 Title II food donations abroad for the purchase of food from foreign producers who live near to where food emergencies erupt. Additionally, the USDA sought $20 million in funding for the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement program, a pilot program authorized under the Agricultural Act of 2014.
The USDA budget requested $1,400 million to provide for development and emergency food assistance and donations under P.L.480 Title II, the government’s principal foreign food aid program. The request was $66 million below the $1,466 million in funding for the program in fiscal 2015 and fiscal 2014.
Title II food aid donations are directed toward addressing food emergencies and toward supporting approved development programs. For the past several years, much more funding has been required to meet food emergencies, which has limited the amount of funding available to support development programs and projects.
The USDA indicated $1.13 billion of the P.L.480 Title II funding it requested for fiscal 2016 would be used to provide emergency food assistance in response to natural disasters and complex emergencies.
The request included new authority to use up to 25 percent ($350 million) of the P.L.480 Title II appropriation in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of agricultural commodities near crises, food vouchers or cash transfers.
“The additional flexibility makes food aid more timely and cost effective, improving program efficiencies and performance and increasing the number of people assisted by about 2 million annually with the same level of resources,” the USDA said.
Congress has never shared the enthusiasm of the Obama administration, and before it, the George W. Bush administration, for authorizing a significant share of the P.L.480 Title II appropriation to be used for local and regional purchase, favoring instead continued purchases of US commodities exclusively for donation abroad.
The USDA request for fiscal 2016 Title II funding included $270 million to be used for development programs in combination with an additional $80 million requested in the Development Assistance account under the US Agency for International Development’s Community Development Fund, bringing the total funding for these types of programs to $350 million.
“Together, these resources support development food assistance programs’ efforts to address chronic food insecurity in areas of recurrent crises using a multi-sectoral approach to reduce poverty and build resilience,” the budget proposal explained.
The USDA budget assumed $135 million in mandatory funding for Food for Progress under P.L.480 Title I, which was expected to provide approximately 190,000 tonnes of commodity assistance in fiscal 2016.
The Food for Progress Act of 1985 authorized US agricultural commodities to be provided to developing countries and emerging democracies that have made commitments to introduce and expand free enterprise in their agricultural economies. Food for Progress agreements may be entered into with foreign governments, private voluntary organizations, nonprofit agricultural organizations, cooperatives or intergovernmental organizations. Agreements provide for the commodities to be supplied on grant terms.
The USDA budget also proposed $192 million in funding for the highly popular McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. The funding was expected to assist 3 million women and children in fiscal 2016. The proposed funding would match that of 2015 and compared with $185 million in fiscal 2014.
The McGovern-Dole program provides for the donation of US agricultural commodities and associated financial and technical assistance to carry out preschool and school feeding programs in designated countries. Maternal, infant and child nutrition programs also are authorized under McGovern-Dole. Its purpose is to reduce the incidence of hunger and malnutrition and improve literacy and primary education.
The USDA budget also requested $20 million for the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement Program, which was authorized by the 2014 farm act to provide for local and regional procurement of food aid commodities for distribution overseas to complement existing food aid programs, such as McGovern-Dole, and to fill nutritional gaps for target populations or food availability gaps generated by unexpected emergencies.