House vote sends food aid bill to Obama

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 6, 2016 - Legislation that will write into law President Obama's Feed the Future initiative and a new food aid program is headed to the White House for his signature.

The House voted 369-53 Wednesday to give final congressional approval to the Global Food Security Act, which would ensure that both Feed the Future and the Emergency Food Security Program extend beyond the Obama administration.

Obama applauded Congress for authorizing Feed the Future, which he called a “game-changing development initiative.” In a statement, he said the plan “has helped increase economic growth and stem the tide of global hunger, poverty and malnutrition over the span of just a few years.”

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“While we've already accomplished so much through this collaborative global partnership, I know that with the continued effort and support that this legislation provides, we can achieve what was just a few years ago the unimaginable: We can end global poverty and hunger within our lifetimes.”

The Global Food Security Act, which authorizes the programs through 2018, requires the administration to develop a government-wide strategy for addressing food security worldwide and also establishes reporting requirements for Feed the Future, a $1-billion-a-year initiative that the administration has been operating in 19 target countries to improve agricultural production and combat malnutrition and child stunting. The U.S. Agency for International Development would be required to show how the program has affected female and male farmers.

The Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) is an account that USAID has been using without congressional authorization since 2010 as an alternative to the Food for Peace program, which requires the use of U.S.-grown commodities.

Under rules that the legislation would put into law, USAID uses EFSP to provide electronic vouchers and locally procured commodities to Syrian refugees and hungry people in other distressed areas. Advocates say the approach allows aid to be delivered more quickly than relying on commodities shipped from the United States via Food for Peace.

During debate on the bill Tuesday night, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce assured Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway that the legislation can't be used to force changes in the way Food for Peace operates.

Some supporters of EFSP see it as a model for overhauling Food for Peace, but Royce, R-Calif., said the two programs are intended to operate in parallel. EFSP is “meant to complement, and not replace, time-tested approaches to delivering food aid including the Food for Peace program,” he told Conaway, R-Texas. 

The bill also contains language intended to ensure that the rules for EFSP wouldn't apply to Food for Peace and other existing aid programs. 

“While the world may be changing rapidly, one thing will never change: The American farmer will always play a significant role in promoting food security at home and abroad,” Royce said. “U.S. agricultural commodities will always be in demand and will always remain a part of the Food for Peace program.”

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A version of the bill passed earlier by the House authorized Feed the Future for just one year and didn't include the EFSP authorization.

USAID has been operating EFSP on its own since 2010 out of a disaster assistance account. The Global Food Security Act also would authorize for the first time the Obama administration's Feed the Future initiative. 

The legislation authorizes spending $1.26 billion in 2017 and 2018 for the program, about what will be spent in fiscal 2016. By comparison, Congress appropriated $1.7 billion for Food for Peace for 2016. Much of the EFSP budget comes from Overseas Contingency Operations funding, which is primarily used to pay for military operations.

USAID says the Feed the Future initiative, which the agency coordinates with USDA and other agencies, have helped reduce child stunting as well as rural poverty, and farmers' sales in the target countries have grown from $38 million in 2011 to $538 million in 2014.

 

(This story was updated to include comment from President Obama at 5:20 p.m.) 

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