47 posts categorized "2014 Offering of Letters"
By now you have likely heard that a provision that would limit the amount of U.S. food aid available to help hungry people was added to a Coast Guard reauthorization bill passed by the House. This decision, which could take food away from more than 2 million vulnerable people, was made without accountability or transparency, but media attention is helping to bring the provision to light. Members of the public and members of Congress are becoming aware of the harmful provision, which primarily benefits foreign-owned shipping companies.
Bread for the World members advocated for and won reforms in the recent farm bill that would make food aid more flexible and able to help more people at no additional cost—the provision in the House bill threatens to undo some of that progress. The Senate commerce committee will consider the bill next, and is expected to begin writing its own version in the next few weeks.
In a recent Huffington Post piece, Bread for the World President David Beckmann writes:
"Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to "speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." Special-interest favors to the shipping industry should not create additional hardship for hungry and poor people globally. This provision does nothing to protect the poor and needy. At best, it is morally imbalanced.
Here is a compilation of a few other recently-published articles on the harmful provision (H.R. 4005), and how it could affect our ability to help hungry people in need:
"US food aid U-turn could put 2m people in jeopardy, warn experts." May 2, 2014, by Carey L. Biron for Inter Press Service, The Guardian. "We're always talking about the budget crisis and using our money more wisely, but here's a provision that would specifically raise the cost of food aid by $75m [£44m] annually. That money would be taken directly out of U.S. food-aid programmes – and millions of vulnerable people would be forced to pay the bill."
"Provision Could Limit U.S. Food Aid." April 24, 2014, by Ron Nixon, New York Times. "An obscure provision tucked inside a Coast Guard spending bill could prevent millions of people in troubled countries around the world from receiving American food aid and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in shipping costs."
"White House Warns Bill Would Crimp Foreign Food Aid." April 24, 2014, by Kristina Peterson, Wall Street Journal. "'As we work swiftly to reach hungry people and save lives, this bill would only increase the cost of shipping emergency food aid, potentially denying relief to more than 2 million persons in need annually,' said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development."
Call (800-326-4941) or email your senators today! Urge them to reject any actions that would increase transportation costs for food aid and prevent hungry people around the world from receiving U.S. food assistance.
Photo: The U.S. has long been a global leader in responding to humanitarian emergencies and is the largest provider of lifesaving food aid. Since Food for Peace—the largest food aid program–began in the 1950s, approximately 3 billion people in 150 countries have benefitted from American generosity and compassion. A Haitian woman and her daughter carry their humanitarian aid rations after receiving them at a food distribution center in Congrave after the 2010 earthquake. (U.S. Navy)
Lutheran Development Service distributes cooking oil to people affected by a 2004 drought in Swaziland. Many U.S. food-aid items are distributed by private relief and development organizations supported by U.S. churches. (Stephen Padre)
Local newspapers can be a powerful and public way to message your members of Congress as well as bring attention to hunger issues.
Faith leaders in Missouri published an op-ed last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opposing a harmful change to U.S. food aid. In the editorial, titled "A provision in Congress that hurts taxpayers and the hungry," Rev. Roger R. Gustafson, Dr. Jim Hill, and Meg Olson call on Missouri senators to reject a provision slipped in to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 that would increase cargo preference.
The bill, which recently passed the House, increases the percentage of U.S. food aid required to be shipped on private U.S. shipping vessels. In effect, this takes away an additional $75 million per year from much-needed U.S. international food-aid programs. Both senators for Missouri, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), sit on the commerce committee, which will soon consider this issue.
"As we read in the Book of Proverbs, 'A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight.' A present-day “false balance” that harms taxpayers and hungry people was tucked into a bill heading to the U.S. Senate, and it must be removed," the faith leaders wrote in the op-ed.
"The false balance in question is an obscure, one-sentence provision in an otherwise unrelated bill passed recently by the U.S. House of Representatives. This provision would tilt the balance in the wrong direction — against fiscal responsibility and against millions of hungry people around the world. As faith leaders called to be stewards of our resources and to serve our neighbors both here and around the world — and especially 'the least of these' — we find this unacceptable, and we call on our U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill to correct the balance and remove this unjust provision."
If your member of Congress also sits on the commerce committee, now is the time to speak up. The committee will soon begin drafting their own version of the bill and without an outcry from faithful advocates, the cargo-preference stipulation could take food from nearly 2 million hungry people. This provision, as the authors write, is an unjust balance. Both taxpayers and the hungry deserve better.
Every member of Congress relies on local media to gauge public opinion on legislation and determine their constituents' priorities. Learn more about how to influence the media on Bread's website and call your regional organizer if you would like to help organize an editorial in your own state.
Because of policy changes allowing flexibility in how we deliver food aid, USAID was able to commit $10 million dollars to be used to purchase food in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. (USAID photo)
I have a confession to make: I occasionally have moments of despair as an anti-hunger advocate. Then I go through a few stages that remind me faith has the power to move mountains – or topple giants as the case may be.
Despair weighed me down when I learned a harmful bill, which cuts international food aid to starving people in deference to shipping companies hungry for profit, passed the House. Three private, foreign-owned shipping companies would largely reap the benefits of a cargo preference provision quietly added to the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (HR 4005). Their profit would come at the expense of U.S. food=aid programs. The bill now sits in the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.
I’m now hopeful that we can fight this harmful provision, but it took me a little while to get here. If you sometimes feel hopeless in your work to end hunger, don’t worry—it’s normal and necessary. Sometimes we must feel sadness and despair—they are the very things that move us to act. Usually, I experience this in four stages:
I feel sad and tired.
I recall a scene broadcast on the news after Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines: A distraught teenager wails and beats on the one remaining wall of what was once his family’s home– his lifeless mother lies in the rubble nearby and his father looks at the camera and pleads for help. I cry. The next scene shows international compassion for humanity as helicopters drop food and water to survivors.
Flexibility on where food can be purchased is a major factor in getting life-saving aid to the Philippines quickly. Reforms in the 2014 farm bill could help up to 800,000 additional people at no additional cost. It is good to see the results of advocacy as lives are saved.
But some want to turn back the clock. Food shipped under cargo-preference law from the United States takes an average of 14 weeks longer to reach people in a crisis. Increasing cargo preference, as stipulated in the Coast Guard bill, would deny an estimated 2 million hungry people access to food aid and reverse improvements made in the farm bill. I wonder how lawmakers could make such a choice: a few shipping companies over 2 million lives.
I feel outraged.
Powerful maritime lobbyist versus a group of Christian advocates seems like a losing battle. However, time and time again, our collective Christian voice wins victories by using gifts of citizenship. The Bible is full of inspirational stories that remind me that faith and “right” is more powerful than money and might. I turn to scripture.
I feel hopeful.
I read 1 Samuel 17 — the story of David and Goliath. The odds of a little guy defeating a giant warrior seem laughable. The soldier’s tools of battle are too heavy, so he is left with a sling and some stones. But David does not go into battle alone and he knows this is the Lord’s fight — David answers a call to act. With a single stone, David topples a giant.
I feel called and ready to act.
There are always giants on Capitol Hill, whether special-interest lobbyists, or lawmakers themselves. Like David picking up the rock as he faces impossible odds against Goliath, anti-hunger advocates can pick up phones, send emails, visit their members of Congress and send a powerful message to the Senate: reject any actions that would increase transportation costs for food aid and prevent hungry people around the world from receiving U.S. food assistance.
We make a difference and we carry with us a sacred call to end hunger. When we live that call out together, giants topple.
Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and regional organizer, western hub.
Bill Clark of Philabundance, a Philadelphia-area food bank, makes the case to participants of a workshop that the government has long had the ability to address hunger as a social crisis. (Stephen Padre)
[This story originally appeared in the May edition of Bread for the World's newsletter.]
"We [as a nation] have done very little to end hunger," declared Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, a food bank serving the Philadelphia area. "The problem next week is the same problem we were facing last week. We really haven’t done anything, and we haven’t been engaged in any way to actually end hunger. But I believe we can do that, and some of these large movements that we've seen historically give me faith that we can."
Clark was one of three local anti-hunger leaders and activists who addressed 62 hunger advocates in Southeastern Pennsylvania March 29 at Villanova University. The advocates gathered for a day of information, inspiration, and being equipped for activism at a workshop organized by Bread for the World.
Clark spoke to participants, who included dozens of students from area colleges and seminaries, about his work assisting the nearly 1 million people in the Delaware Valley who face hunger every day. He provided a national context for his work in the area by explaining that the federal government and social movements have each played key roles in ending other societal ills such as slavery and child labor.
He and the other two speakers, who presented in the short, information-intensive style of the popular TED Talks, were at the workshop as examples of local practitioners, people who are fighting hunger in local communities day-byday. Clark spoke about the success of Philabundance’s new nonprofit grocery store, Fare and Square, in Chester, Pa., a former food desert.
A fourth speaker at the workshop, Bread's director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, provided a national perspective on ending hunger in his talk, titled "Why Do Elections Matter?"
"I like to call elections marching orders," said Mitchell. "It's constituents telling their member of Congress, 'When you go to D.C., you better vote on this issue and that issue.'" He explained to advocates that all elections, even midterm elections, like the ones approaching in 2014, can and do have long-lasting effects because of who gets elected to Congress and how they vote.
Following these speakers, which provided different aspects of fighting hunger, advocates received training on carrying out a letter-writing event in their church or on their campus as part of Bread's Offering of Letters campaign. Bread offers workshops similar to the one at Villanova for Bread’s biggest church- and campus-based legislative campaign every year to provide background on the campaign's topic and to hone the advocacy skills of advocates.
Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters focuses on reforming the U.S. government's programs that provide food aid overseas, which provided yet another perspective, an international one, to the workshop's participants.
In small-group discussions, which occurred between speakers throughout the day, advocates wrestled with the truth that hunger is not well-known in communities where it exists. They agreed that it is crucial to emphasize reality-based, compelling stories told by those directly experiencing hunger and poverty. One participant noted, "We need to bridge the gap between people who have stories about hunger and those who have the mental space to campaign."
To see if there is a workshop scheduled near you (or to request one), contact your Bread regional organizer, who can also assist you with organizing an Offering of Letters.
While the suffering of children who do not receive adequate nutrition during the first 1000 days of their lives cannot be overstated, malnutrition is a problem that can also impact a nation’s economic productivity and even our global economy. One out of four children under the age of five is stunted – that’s a quarter of our global population. The good news is we have solutions that work, but the question remains: will we implement policies and fund programs that we know can make a difference?
This is the focus of a recent article in The Atlantic by Roger Thurow, author of the new book The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, and senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
In a moving excerpt from the article 1,000 Days: The Period That Decides the Health and Wealth of the World, Thurow writes:
“For me, the human face of these numbers is a boy I first met during the Ethiopian famine of 2003, when international food aid was keeping 14 million people alive. Hagirso was five years old and weighed just 27 pounds when his father, Tesfaye Ketema, carried him into an emergency feeding tent. Tesfaye explained that his son, who was sickly and weak and stunted, had been malnourished since birth and was the most vulnerable in the family when the famine hit. Hagirso miraculously survived, but his early malnourishment and the subsequent famine exacted a tremendous toll. When I visited him 10 years later, in April 2013, Hagirso was 15 and barely four feet tall. Tesfaye said his son was often sick and wasn’t strong enough to do much work on the small family farm. Hagirso was in school, but only in the first grade. The day I visited, he and his much-younger classmates were studying the alphabet and pronouncing vowel-consonant combinations: ba, be, bi, bo, bu. There, in that classroom, was confirmation of all the statistics on the cost of malnutrition and stunting: lost education, lost work, lost wages, lost opportunity.”
Calculate the cost of malnutrition globally and the bill is estimated to run about $1.4 – 2.1 trillion a year. Targeting nutrition and nutrition education to mothers and infants in the first 1000 days is a cost-effective solution with proven results.
U.S. food aid — the focus of Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters — is one vehicle that allows the United States to play its part in decreasing global malnutrition. With smart policy changes that address a modern understanding of the long-term effects of hunger, we can provide food that is more nutritious, especially to women and children in the critical 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday.
The future is at stake – malnutrition strips opportunity from the Hagirsos of the world. What he might have been able to contribute to his family, his village, his country, and the world has been compromised because of hunger. We cannot change what happened to Hagirso, but we can make a difference for the millions of other children around the world .
After learning more about what's at stake, take action by writing to your members of Congress and urging them to pass much-needed reform to our food-aid programs. Recent food-aid improvements are also in danger of being reversed. Learn more about how you can take urgent action here.
By Derick Dailey and Ericka Elion
Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery.
Nehemiah 5 tells the story of Jewish farmers faced with a crisis—one of social, economic, and political proportions. These farmers were forced to deal with widespread famine due to crop scarcity and greed on behalf of the ruler. People lacked enough food to eat, the government imposed excessive taxes on the poorest, and, consequently, the poor were forced into a system of debt as they borrowed money from those in power to satisfy the government’s demand.
Today, our society is faced with a similar crisis; one of social, economic, and political weight, but also one that has moral implications. Today, there is a persistent poverty of consciousness and spiritual conviction, driven by the overwhelming realities of our time: low wages or no wages, setbacks and cut backs, discrimination, hatred, and political gridlock. Our children are subjected to slavery, both literal and figurative. They are oppressed, suppressed, and held bondage by poverty, and then stigmatized when they seek help by attempting to access the social safety net.
Ask yourself, is God pleased with such atrocity?
Much like Nehemiah’s stories, people across the world have stories of personal testimony that serve as tools of transformation.
This year, the focus of Bread for the World's Offering of Letters is food-aid reform. Included in the Offering on Letters kit is the powerful story of Catarina, a woman whose young children have been able to thrive because of U.S. food aid. Bread for the World members Chang Park has shared his story of receiving U.S. food aid as a child growing up in Korea. These stories combine to form a collective body of spiritual tools which people of faith can lean on and learn from.
As we fight to reform food aid in the coming months, we long to hear your stories of triumph and trial, of overcoming and overreaching, stories of challenge and championing. Share your story with us in the comments, and with your member of Congress by writing a personal letter. Tell your senators and representative why we must work to help people in times of crisis and ensure that all are fed. Or, host an Offering of Letters workshop, and engage your congregation or campus in this response to hunger and suffering in the world.
Doing justice is about prophetic vision anchored in love for every neighbor, and compassion and mercy to the oppressor and the oppressed. Advocacy allows justice to be within reach for everyone. You can do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and share your voice and story to help usher in God’s holy work of ending hunger.
Derick Dailey is a graduate student at Yale University, and a Bread for the World member. Ericka Elion is the ECC-Covenant World Relief fellow at Bread for the World and a MDiv/MNA student at North Park Theological Seminary.
To learn more about Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid," visit www.bread.org/ol, and watch the recording of our recent Google Hangout on food-aid reform.
Photos: 1) A farmer in Guatemala (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World); 2) Farmer Jane Sebbi tending her land in Uganda (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World); and 3) A young girl eating breakfast (Margaret Nea).
Jane Sebbi, left, is a farmer with 12 acres of land in Kamuli, Uganda, and a mother of seven children. In this photo, she works in her field with her sister-in-law. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)
“There is a saying that helps to explain this challenge to work for justice, not just for charity. It goes like this: 'If people are hungry you can give them some fish and they will live another day. It’s called relief. But if you not only give a fish, but teach them how to fish for themselves they will be helped to feed themselves in the future.' This is often called development. That sounds good but it can be misleading if it is not followed with the next step. There is a third part of that saying that is critical to our efforts to move beyond guilt. We must not only offer the fish (relief) and assistance in knowing how to fish themselves (development), but we must move over in the pond and give them a place to fish. Or as someone has added, we must stop polluting the pond where they fish and give them a fair price for their fish. The third step has many facets to it. It is called working for justice, fairness. Justice includes efforts to end oppression and unfair practices of what Walter Wink calls the domination system. Moving from charity to justice is difficult because it calls for careful listening, increased awareness and critical thinking about the attitudes and values that have brought us to the current crises.”
—Excerpt from Beyond Guilt: Christian Response to Suffering (p. 42) by George S. Johnson.
In Bread for the World's April e-newsletter, Todd Post, senior editor of Bread for the World Institute’s annual Hunger Report, writes about how an agricultural development program and a cow have helped Rwandan Joseline Umugwaneza move out of extreme poverty. If we are to make progress in the exodus from hunger both at home and abroad, we must address the root causes of hunger and seek solutions that break the cycles of chronic poverty and malnutrition.
U.S. food aid has played a significant role in preventing global hunger and starvation for decades. But with a few common-sense reforms, food-aid programs can help millions more, while building resilience against future crises. Food-aid reform is the focus of Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters.
No reforms matter if funding for food assistance and nutrition programs are cut. As a new appropriations cycle begins, Bread members must ask their members of Congress to adequately fund U.S. food aid. Further creating an obstacle to a more just system of food assistance is a provision in a House-passed Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which is getting very little media attention. The reauthorization bill would require 75 percent of all U.S. food aid to be shipped on U.S. vessels. The resulting increase in shipping costs would reduce funding for programs that help support U.S. humanitarian efforts. Senators, especially those on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, should remove such provision from a final bill.
Bread members spent two years advocating for improvements in the farm bill that would help end the hunger that affects too many in our world. We have come too far to allow our work to be scuttled by a provision in a Coast Guard spending bill. Funding international food assistance is essential to building food security around the world and ensuring that aid is not a handout, but a hand up.
By David Gist
My introduction to “food aid” came in the form of mangos, and took place in Nicaragua, where my wife, Wendy, and I spent six years as Presbyterian Church (USA) mission workers. Our yard was filled with mango trees, so every morning we cleaned and bagged the fruit, then went out and looked for children selling newspapers or cleaning car windows at traffic signals and gave them the mangos.
This “mango-distribution system” sounds simple, but it didn’t always go well. Have you ever seen a mango after it’s been in a plastic bag in 95 degree weather with 90 percent humidity? We soon switched from bags to baskets. But one thing was constant—whenever we delivered our “mango food aid,” the oldest child (usually a girl) would come to our car, thank us, call other children to her, distribute the mangos among them (starting with the youngest children), and return the basket. Not once did any child try to hoard them. Not once did the oldest children eat before serving the youngest.
Our experience delivering mangos reminded us that people in need take care of one another when given a chance. Additionally, while the mangos addressed an immediate need, we knew we had to go deeper to address the problem of hunger. But how do we go deeper? I pondered this question during my years in Nicaragua.
As the time came to leave Nicaragua, I felt myself increasingly conflicted at ending our mission. Were we abandoning God’s call to service? But I said nothing and kept my worries to myself. Our host organization held a worship service to say goodbye to us, and at the close of the service the pastors laid hands on Wendy and me. One leader looked at me and told me he knew I felt broken inside at the prospect of finishing our mission service. He went on to tell us we had it all wrong; we were only now beginning our mission service. The pastors then commissioned us as missionaries from Nicaragua sent to the United States to speak out for all those in the developing world—to go to the seat of power and advocate to bring an end to hunger, poverty, and injustice. And with that blessing, God propelled me to Bread for the World.
Today, in 2014, we have the opportunity to improve food-distribution systems. Smart, simple changes to food-aid programs would allow food aid to benefit millions more people each year—at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. How is this possible? Buying and distributing food in the region where people need it is much cheaper and faster than paying international shipping companies to deliver U.S. food from across the ocean. Local and regional purchasing also supports small farmers in the developing world, and they are the agents who will ultimately bring an end to hunger. Food aid, like a basket of mangos, meets an immediate need, but with reform it can do so much more and go so much further.
David Gist is a regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.
U.S. food assistance has been critical in helping more than 3 billion people in over 150 countries over the past five decades. Food assistance saves lives, helps people recover from crises, and breaks the cycles of chronic poverty and malnutrition.
Unfortunately, humanitarian needs and the scope of food crises continue to expand while many countries, including our own, face increasing budget constraints. In 2011 alone, 206 million people were affected by droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Globally, 870 million people are chronically food-insecure. All of this underscores the critical importance of food aid from our federal government, which has long been a leader in providing this assistance.
Food-aid reform is the focus of Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters. It is a way for many Christians in thousands of churches and other faith communities across the country to collectively voice their concerns in Congress for the neighbors in God's world who live overseas.
The U.S. government must be poised to respond in the timeliest, most effective, and cost-efficient way possible. Fortunately, in January, some initial food-aid reforms were signed into law as part of the new farm bill. But those reforms can’t have any impact if they aren’t fully funded. That means Bread is looking to Congress and the Obama administration with a few key requests in the current appropriations cycle, including:
Flexibility through local and regional purchases
Having the option to obtain food closer to where it is needed would enable our federal government's food-aid programs to save more lives as well as money. The farm bill recently authorized a permanent local and regional purchase (LRP) program at $80 million a year. This money was in the president’s most recent budget request, and Congress needs to hear from constituents to be convinced of the importance of this program.
Currently, most food aid from the United States must be in the form of food grown and purchased in the United States and shipped overseas to the place of need. Shipping goods overseas from American shores is costly in terms of time and money. The alternative practice of buying food from local and regional markets for distribution, proposed in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, can be both quicker and more cost effective than the current practice.
Two independent evaluations by the Government Accountability Office and a congressionally mandated study by Management Systems International found that LRP programs have an average cost savings of at least 25 percent compared to similar in-kind food-aid programs. In some cases, these savings can increase to over 50 percent, as a Cornell University study documented, along with a 62 percent gain in timeliness of delivery. The flexibility, cost effectiveness, and timeliness of such programs means that humanitarian organizations can deliver food aid more quickly and at less cost to taxpayers while supporting local markets and communities in developing countries (private relief and development organizations, including those related to U.S. churches, are the entities that actually implement the programs under contracts with the U.S. government).
Other types of flexibility
One significant provision that was included in the president’s budget was language that would provide new authority to use up to 25 percent of funding in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of food, food vouchers, or cash transfers. As the president's budget request states, this flexibility ensures that emergency food assistance would be timelier and more cost-effective, thereby improving program efficiencies and performance. Bread estimates that the 25 percent provision alone would allow the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's main implementer of food aid, to reach approximately 2.6 million more people each year with the same level of resources.
No reforms matter if funding for food assistance and nutrition programs are cut. Because there have been more conflicts and natural disasters, the needs are actually greater, not less, and require continued U.S. leadership.
Funding international food assistance is essential to building food security around the world and ensuring that aid is not a handout, but a hand up, breaking the cycles of poverty and hunger to allow for sustainable achievements in international development. Not only that, but the types of food aid distributed address nutritional needs as well, especially among vulnerable groups like children and pregnant mothers.
Take part in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, Reforming U.S. Food Aid, and hold a letter-writing event at your church or campus. Order your Offering of Letters kit at www.bread.org/store, or download the materials at www.bread.org/ol/2014.
[This article originally appeared in the April 2014 edition of Bread for the World's e-newsletter.]
Women carry their ration of food, after fleeing their homes in the village of Abyei, engulfed by heavy fighting between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army. (UN Photo/Tim McKulka)
By Alyssa Casey
This week, the House passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill, which includes a provision that could drastically reduce the number of hungry people that U.S. food aid can reach. The provision would significantly increase cargo-preference restrictions, rules requiring that a certain percentage of all cargo funded by the United States – including food-aid products – must be transported on American ships with American crews. The reauthorization bill would require 75 percent of all U.S. food aid to be shipped on U.S. vessels. The resulting increase in shipping costs would reduce funding for programs that help support U.S. humanitarian efforts.
Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters campaign focuses on the need to reform the federal government's food-aid programs so that funds are used more effectively and efficiently. Local and regional purchase (LRP) – the practice of buying food at or near the site of a humanitarian crisis – gives the United States flexibility in responding to crises, enabling us to act more quickly and save more lives, as we witnessed in the post-disaster Philippines earlier this year. The cargo-preference provision, however, would reduce funding for LRP—and food shipped under cargo-preference law from the United States takes an average of 14 weeks longer to reach people in need than local purchase. Buying local food mitigates the effects of disaster on the local economy and helps local farmers and vendors continue to support themselves and their families. LRP also uses tax dollars more efficiently and costs 25 to 50 percent less than food shipped from the United States—and reaches millions more. In short, this harmful provision could result in the United States spending more money on slower, less effective assistance to hungry people rocked by crisis, and the help we do provide has the potential to undercut local farmers and merchants—some of the very people U.S. food aid seeks to help.
Smart food aid is forward thinking. In 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP) were able to feed more than 72,000 people in Rwanda while supporting Rwandan farmers through local purchase. This drastically reduced costs – saving $243 per metric ton on corn and $899 per metric ton on beans – and allowed food aid to be delivered months sooner than if it had been shipped from the United States.
Since 2002, the U.S. government has reduced purchase of U.S.-grown food aid from 5 metric tons in 2002, to 1.4 million tons in 2012. At the same time, all major U.S. ports have increased overall tons exported. (Source: USAID)
The cargo-preference restrictions, added shortly before the bill was passed, are based on the argument that food aid hurts exports. However, food aid accounts for only one half of one percent of all U.S. exports. Food shipped from our shores yields about 40 cents for every aid dollar spent. The small loss in export revenue becomes much less urgent in comparison to the millions of lives saved and the long-term consequences of resilience. Building resilience in developing countries often leads to future trading partners. South Korea, once a poverty-wracked recipient of U.S. food aid, is now the United States' sixth-largest goods trading partner.
Local purchase may not be the best option in every scenario. What is important is that the United States has the flexibility to respond to each scenario by choosing the method that reaches hungry people in the shortest amount of time.
Now is the time to raise your voice in support of food-aid reform. The Coast Guard bill goes to the Senate next for consideration. Bread for the World will strongly oppose any final legislation that includes cargo-preference restrictions that decrease funding for flexible food-aid programs. We must continue to let our members of Congress know that we support legislation that saves taxpayer dollars and increases efficiency, not legislation that takes food out of the mouths of the world’s hungry.
Alyssa Casey is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.
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