Oct. 14, 2015 - The Obama administration’s effort to shift more international
food aid away from U.S. commodities is struggling to gain any traction on the
Hill, despite some success in the farm bill and strong support from the House
Foreign Affairs Committee. Part of the reason may be the stiff pushback from
the House Agriculture Committee.
Affairs Chairman Ed Royce expresses frustration that Congress continues to
resist the U.S. Agency for International Development’s plan to use
significantly more Food for Peace funding for cash vouchers or local and
regional procurement (LRP) of aid rather than relying almost exclusively on
U.S. commodities. “We need to embrace common sense reforms that allow us to use
the right tool, at the right time, in the right place,” Royce, R-Calif., said
in opening a recent hearing on the issue.
Critics of the administration’s plan argue that there
would be less political support for Food for Peace if it isn’t seen as
benefitting U.S. farmers and shipping companies. That argument typically comes
from farm and shipping interests or participating NGOs. But a Democrat on the
committee with no stake in either the farm or shipping sectors, Virginia’s Gerry
Connolly, suggests the fear is well-founded.
once managed an anti-hunger organization and worked as a staffer on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, says there’s scant support in Congress any more
for foreign aid in general.
“Can one really
imagine a Bob Dole, a George McGovern, coming together in this Congress to
support the new food aid program? Really?” Connolly said to a panel of
witnesses that included former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and ex-USAID
Administrator Rajiv Shah, both Democrats. Dole and McGovern, of course, were
the political odd couple in an earlier generation that got together to push for
both domestic and international nutrition assistance programs.
“Just how easy
will it be to put together a coalition that will readily support this kind of
intervention long-term in terms of appropriating dollars?” Connolly asked.
“Not easy, but
not impossible,” Glickman responded.
“You all did it
in the last farm bill,” Glickman went on. He was referring to a provision that
authorized using a relatively small portion of Food for Peace -- up to $80
million a year -- for local and regional procurement. But it’s not yet clear
how much -- or even if any -- of that funding will be provided. House
appropriators didn’t include any such funding in their fiscal 2016 spending
bill. The Senate version has $20 million.
Democrat on House Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel of New York, tells Agri-Pulse he isn’t giving up on the
proposed reforms. “You just keep pushing the issue … Ultimately, I think common
sense is on our side.” He said the House Agriculture Committee’s resistance
reflects the concerns of agriculture interests.
Agriculture has held three hearings that among other things have highlighted
the benefit of the current program to agriculture and the potential fraud
problems in voucher programs.
chairman, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says agriculture must be kept “at the table,
in the conversations” when it comes to running Food for Peace. “Maintaining
support across a broad section of Americans for these programs is going to be
vital as we look at scarce resources,” he said.
next hearing will look into the shipping issues. Half the aid must be shipped
on U.S.-flagged carriers, which raises the cost an average of 23 percent,
according to the Government Accountability Office.
Boozman, R-Ark., told an audience at the University of Arkansas earlier this
week that the plan to shift food aid away from U.S. sources won’t get through
says the problem is the lack of a constituency for overseas donations. Currently,
“you have a situation where you're actually selling products, you've got
shippers, you've got farmers, you have a constituency; it all works together,”
he told Agri-Pulse. The system, he said, “is good for the countries
involved; it's good for Americans, and good for American farmers and the
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