Exposing Special Interest that Would Take Food From the Hungry
Wealthy shipping companies, mostly foreign-owned, have lobbied for more profit for themselves at the expense of 2 million hungry people, and the House of Representatives has sanctioned it. It’s a boondoggle — it's not only a waste of time and money, it goes against our nation's values.
This subsidy to the world’s largest shipping conglomerates was quietly included as a provision in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill for fiscal year 2015, which passed by voice vote in the House. The legislation would increase, from 50 to 75 percent, the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. As a result, the cost of shipping food aid would increase by at least $75 million, and 2 million fewer hungry people would be reached.
This provision has nothing to do with the U.S. Coast Guard and is a blatant attempt by special interests to line their own pockets while more people overseas go hungry.
Cornell University’s Christopher Barrett and Bucknell University’s Erin Lentz expose the level of depravity the shipping lobby has reached in “Highway robbery on the high seas," a recent article in The Hill. In addition to limiting food aid, they state that the legislation would also limit competition and restrict public comment. “These anti-competitive restrictions, which enable much more expensive shipping rates than competitor vessels would charge, generate windfall profits to a few, mainly foreign companies who operate U.S.-flagged vessels through domestic subsidiaries,” they write.
I have been meeting with members of the Senate Commerce Committee, who are writing their version of the bill. Our goal is to strip the provision from the Senate bill in committee. A common argument for increasing cargo preference relies on the idea that not doing so will result in U.S. job losses. Barrett and Lentz point out that earlier reforms, which reduced cargo preference, did not result in any lost jobs. In addition, they write, “this type of indirect subsidy is so inefficient that any job created comes at a taxpayer cost of about $100,000.”
In 2010, Barrett and Lentz were part of a research team that conducted a rigorous peer-reviewed analysis on agricultural cargo preference policy (ACP). Their conclusion was that ACP is not cost effective or efficient, does not increase military readiness, and does not substantially affect the labor market. ACP does, however, squander scare food-aid resources intended to help alleviate hunger.
Opposition to the ACP provision is clearly bipartisan. Organizations as diverse as The Heritage Foundation and The Center for American Progress agree that that increasing cargo preference is a step backward.
I am asking you to sign a petition, which I intend to deliver to Capitol Hill next week. Regional organizers are asking for faith leaders to add their names to sign-on letters targeting some key members on the committee, which they will deliver in person on June 10.
Lives are at stake. We have seen the difference flexibility made after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines and U.S. food aid helped save lives. An estimated 5 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian assistance urgently — after fleeing violence, mothers now fear famine will claim their children. Right now we must not undo the progress made on food-aid reform, nor turn our backs to those in need when we have the means to help.
Ryan Quinn is a senior policy analyst in the government relations department at Bread for the World.
Photo: Lutheran Development Service distributes food to people affected by drought in Swaziland in 2004. (Stephen H. Padre/Bread for the World)
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