The Biden administration on Thursday announced plans to use USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation spending authority to provide $1 billion in additional food assistance overseas, a move requested by leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee last year.

Some $950 million will be used to buy, ship and distribute wheat, rice, sorghum, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas, vegetable oil, cornmeal, navy beans, pinto beans and kidney beans, under the plan developed by the Agriculture Department and U.S. Agency for International Development.

As is typically done, USDA will purchase the commodities and USAID will be responsible for distributing the food. USAID is supposed to ensure that U.S.-provided food doesn’t disrupt local markets.

Another $50 million is earmarked for a separate pilot project that will focus on commodities that are shelf-stable but haven’t been traditionally used in food aid programs. USAID is working with humanitarian organizations to develop the project, a USDA release says.

“America’s farmers are the most productive and efficient in the world, and we rely on them to supply safe and nutritious food not only to our nation, but to the global community,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release. “With many millions of people in dire need worldwide, the U.S. agricultural sector is well positioned to provide lifesaving food assistance.

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USAID Administrator Samantha Power said, “During this time of staggering global hunger, America is extending a hand to hungry communities around the world – and American farmers are crucial to that effort.”

The aid will go to 18 countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Yemen.

The CCC-funded aid program comes as Vilsack has been under fire from congressional Republicans for using the CCC authority to fund the department’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program and other initiatives. Republicans also have accused the administration of doing too little to promote U.S. agricultural exports.

A USDA spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the $1 billion food aid plan is in response to a request Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking Republican John Boozman of Arkansas made to Vilsack last August, seeking the use of CCC funds to bolster spending on overseas marketing and international aid. Stabenow and Boozman told Agri-Pulse at the time the CCC funding would help supplement funding in the next farm bill.

“Additional funding for food assistance programs will help address the most urgent humanitarian needs in a generation." Keeff Felty, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said in a statement.

Stabenow also applauded the announcement. "It is clear that our country must do everything we can to meet humanitarian needs around the world, and American farmers are up to the task," she said. 

The funding is separate from what is provided to USDA and USAID through annual appropriations bills. The fiscal 2024 spending legislation enacted in March provides $1.69 billion for Food for Peace and $240 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program.

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