Senators introduce bill to overhaul food aid

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 - Senators Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Coons, D-Del., yesterday introduced legislation aimed at overhauling the U.S. food aid program. Though the lawmakers say the bill will “free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in developing aid” and will allow the U.S. to reach as many as 9 million more people, more quickly, similar bills have been criticized by the agriculture industry and others for failing to support domestic jobs and farmers.

Lets Talk Food

“More than anything else, the mission of America's food aid program is to save lives,” said Coons, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs. “Our current system for acquiring and distributing food aid is inefficient and often hurts the very communities it is trying to help.”

The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 would:

- Change the law that requires 100 percent of food aid commodities to be produced in the U.S. Instead, the legislation would allow U.S. funds to be used to purchase locally or regionally procured commodities, vouchers, or cash transfers, depending on the most cost-effective option.

- Change legislation that requires 50 percent of donated food aid to be shipped on U.S.-flag vessels. The legislation would allow USAID, which oversees the Food for Peace program, to ship U.S. commodities on whatever vessel is available, which the lawmakers argue will save the agency money.

- Eliminate “monetization,” or the practice of requiring 15 percent of all U.S.-donated food to be sold first by aid organizations for the purpose of funding development projects. Many development proponents say monetization disrupts local markets; a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report concurred. 

While Coons, Corker and other food aid reform advocates say the changes will make the U.S. food aid system more wide-ranging and efficient, many argue changing the structure of the program will have political downsides. The agriculture and marine industries, historically proponents of the program, could stand to lose if U.S. commodities are no longer shipped overseas on U.S. vessels.

Others, including some development groups like Feed the Children and ACDI/VOCA, argue the method of monetization has been effective. An Informa Economics study commissioned by those groups in 2012 argued the system has worked in the Gambia, Guatemala and Liberia, among other places.

But Coons and Corker have some powerful allies. The Obama administration itself pushed for wide-ranging food aid reform in the fiscal year 2014 appropriations bill. Additionally, the 2014 Farm Bill authorized USAID and USDA to use more locally or regionally purposed food with an $80 million program, subject to appropriations.

The current legislation, however, could move the program out of the farm bill entirely and into the Foreign Assistance Act.

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