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House Members See Food-Aid Reform at Work in the Philippines

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The United States is providing humanitarian aid to help the people of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. (IOM/J. Lowry)

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), recently took a trip to the Philippines to see how food-aid policy authorized in Washington D.C., is actualized in the wake of a disaster.

The Philippine Star reports Royce and eight other members House of Representatives visited the country to see how U.S. food aid has impacted the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The typhoon, which killed more than 6,000 Filipinos in November of last year, left survivors without food and resources as they dealt with toppled towns and broken lives. U.S. food aid is a critical part of their recovery.

Royce is the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; the authority to deliver emergency food aid and develop agricultural markets falls under the umbrella of the committee. Joining Royce on the trip were seven other members: Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Randy Weber (R-Texas), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Luke Messer (R-Ind). Rep. Madeleine Bordallo (Guam) also travelled with the delegation.

Immediately after the disaster hit, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) committed $10 million to the World Food Program, to be used to buy food near the Philippines and in neighboring countries. The flexibility to purchase food locally was critical for a speedy response to the humanitarian disaster, and helped save lives. The funds were available through a policy that allowed for a small percentage of food aid funding to be used for local and regional purchase in farm bill legislation.

In a 2013 joint op-ed published in The Hill,  Royce and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) write,  

Experience shows that buying food closer to its distribution point is faster, cheaper, and helps save lives. In recent years, a small government pilot program has experimented with “local and regional purchase” efforts. The result? Aid that costs 25-50 percent less and is delivered 11 to 14 weeks faster than under the current system.

Royce and Engel are vocal champions of food aid on Capitol Hill, and helped push forward reforms, included in the recent farm bill, that are first steps in improving U.S. food aid. One policy revision includes an increase in the funding allotted to buy food locally and also makes permanent the local and regional purchase pilot. These reforms give USAID greater flexibility in how it responds to hunger.

There is much more that the United States should do to make international food aid more cost-effective and increase its reach. Churches across the country are helping this effort by participating in Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, "Reforming U.S. Food Aid." The letters make a huge impact on members of Congress, and help keep reform opportunities on the top of the congressional agenda.

 

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