Building Bipartisan Momentum for Food Aid
Before receiving assistance from the Food for Peace program, Davane Mesa Paulo was struggling with just a hectare of land and a few crops that he grew for food. "Hunger ran away from my house," he said recently. "So people started coming to ask how." (Bita Rodriguez/USAID)
Food-aid reform came out as a winner in yesterday’s Senate Appropriation Committee agriculture bill markup. The 2015 spending bill, which sets funding amounts for the U.S. programs that deliver emergency and humanitarian food assistance, will include $35 million for food-aid reform efforts. The funds would help food aid reach an estimated 200,000 more people in need.
However, the spending bill still has a long way to go before the Oct. 1 deadline – the start of the fiscal year. Once the final bill passes out of the Appropriations Committee, it will then go to the floor for a vote from the full Senate. Finally, if there is normal process, it will be conferenced with the House version of the bill.
Bread for the World and its members are urging Congress to update food-aid policy to better meet the needs of hungry people facing natural disasters, food insecurity and malnutrition, famine, civil strife, and other extraordinary circumstances. Thousands of letters from Christians have already arrived in offices on Capitol Hill, building the momentum for bipartisan efforts to reform food aid— as we saw in yesterday’s vote.
The food-aid amendment was introduced thanks to the efforts of Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Before the committee vote, Sen. Johanns said, “Literally, people live or die by the decision we make here." The vote of 16 ayes to 14 nays was strongly bipartisan. Last minute efforts on the part of grassroots anti-hunger advocates, who made a lot of noise in support of the bill, helped push the amendment forward.
The funds will help replace the practice of monetization — in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work, but can undercut local farmers in the process. The more flexibility administrators have in implementing Food For Peace, the more efficient the development programs can become, allowing thousands of additional people to better feed themselves and escape hunger. Flexibility in design and implementation also helps us build resilience against future emergencies.
“This is significant and shows that there is a strong desire for reform that crosses party lines,” says Ryan Quinn, senior policy analyst at Bread for the World. “We can build on this,” he said, “but keep in mind that we are also facing cuts if the Senate Commerce Committee includes a cargo-preference provision in a bill they are starting to write.”
The House recently passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that included a provision to increase transportation costs for food aid. This would limit the amount of food aid the U.S. could provide, and program costs would come out of Food for Peace funds. We are currently reaching out to faith leaders in committee member’s states and organizing sign-on letters to stop the provision in a Senate bill.
“This was a real win for hungry people and sets us on the right path,” said Quinn. “We should feel good and know our voices are making a difference. But, he cautions, "in a world where 842 million people go to bed hungry every day, and crises situations like Syria and South Sudan are getting worse, we have to keep this momentum going.”
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