Bipartisan Consensus on Food Aid Reform

March 16, 2018 By Sung Lee

There is good news in Congress this week – Republicans and Democrats have come together, once again, to strengthen the impact of American food aid around the world with the introduction of a new bill by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). With 30 million people on the brink of starvation, delays in food assistance cost lives, often those of children. By creating greater flexibility in the delivery of food aid, the United States can feed millions more people in need at no additional cost, quickly and effectively maximizing American taxpayer dollars.

A Growing Consensus

This effort to transform food aid builds on a consensus on both sides of the political aisle that food aid is a smart area for reform. The USGLC’s Report on Reports highlights studies by think tanks from the Heritage Foundation to the Center for American Progress to the American Enterprise Institute— and all agree that modernizing outdated regulations will make America’s food aid programs more efficient and responsive to the needs of desperately hungry people around the world.

The reports echo findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Purchasing food closer to countries in need, studies argue, would not only generate significant cost savings of between 25 to 50 percent but would also allow food to reach people 11 to 14 weeks faster than shipping food from the United States.

Modernizing Food Assistance: Then & Now

Over the past ten years, Congress has taken important steps to modernize America’s food assistance programs, granting USAID and USDA a greater range of tools and flexibility. These include prepositioning food at strategic locations to quickly respond to emergencies, expanding the use of market-based assistance to purchase food both from the U.S. as well as from local and regional markets closer to crisis areas. As a result, the Food for Peace program provided life-saving food to more than 56 million people in 2016 and empowered more than 8 million people to build capacity to feed themselves over time.

The Food for Peace Modernization Act, introduced in Congress this week, will help build on this progress and further improve the effectiveness of U.S. food aid. The bill’s proposed reforms include providing USAID the authority to use tools such as vouchers, electronic transfers, and local food purchases, eliminating the requirement to monetize food aid, and reducing the U.S. purchased commodities preference to 25 percent of the Food for Peace budget. It is estimated that the savings from these measures could help feed 9 million more people.

Uncertain Future Amid Budget Cuts

Despite strong, bipartisan support for our nation’s humanitarian programs – including food aid – in Congress, the Administration has proposed a new 30 percent cut to the International Affairs Budget, including the elimination of both the Food for Peace program and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. As the world’s largest provider of food assistance, it is imperative that the United States maintain its commitment to helping the millions affected by extreme poverty, conflicts, and disasters. Let’s hope that Congress continues to see the great return on investment of these programs.

photo credit: USAID