Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

64 posts categorized "Food Aid"

Flipping the Equation: More Food and Less Shipping

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USAID-donated rice distribution in West Point, Liberia. (Morgana Wingard/USAID)


By Robin Stephenson

Over $9 billion dollars was spent on transporting food aid compared to $7.4 billion on actual food during a 10-year period, according to a joint investigation by USA Today and graduate students at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

With lives at stake, that ratio should shock us.

Legislation passed in the 1960s mandates food largely has to be purchased in the United States and then shipped on U.S. cargo carriers, which means 65 percent of the money is spent on transportation and business costs, rather than food. As part of Bread for the World’s 2014 Offering of Letters, people of faith have called on their members of Congress to reform outdated laws that govern our food-aid policy. 

Special interests have lobbied hard to maintain the status quo. Companies like Liberty Martine have spent $1.13 million in 2013 to fight reforms according the USA Today report.

Earlier this year, a provision was slipped into the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4005) that would increase, from 50 to 75 percent, the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. The House passed the bill by voice vote. The Senate version (S. 2444) awaits mark-up in committee. We will continue to advocate for the absence of cargo preference in a final bill.

In addition to regions with chronic food insecurity, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has responded to food emergencies in Syria, South Sudan, the Philippines, and Central African Republic in 2014. Food shortages resulting from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa are expected to put more pressure on already strained resources. Making matters worse, the Medill/USA Today report says that the cost of buying and delivering food from the United States has tripled in the past 12 years – all while funding has been cut.

There is a solution in the Senate right now that could change the lopsided food-aid ratio. The Food For Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) would eliminate cargo preference. The bill would free as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people annually.

Smart food aid is about more than feeding people; it helps create stability.

In Liberia, the Ebola epidemic is destroying lives and livelihoods. Markets are disrupted and food is becoming scarce. To maintain political and economic stability, people’s basic survival needs must be met. Supporting the response by the World Food Programme, USAID had provided $6.6 million worth of U.S.-grown food aid as of last month. 

In a time where needs are great and resources are stretched thin, every dollar must count. It is time to flip the equation and make ending hunger the priority.

Act Now: Email or call your senators at 800-826-3688 and ask them to cosponsor S. 2421, the Food for Peace Reform Act.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and seneior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Recap: #WorldFoodDay Twitter Town Hall

October Webinar Recap: Elections to Lame Duck

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Congress returns to Washington, D.C. November 12.  (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson    

The halls of Congress remain relatively quiet as members are in their home districts and states during the last couple of weeks before the midterm elections. They will return to Washington, D.C., on November 12 to get back to the nation’s business. Will they bring back a new commitment to end hunger?

Stephen Hill, Bread for the World’s senior organizer for elections, says that depends on how Bread members are engaging current and potential members of Congress in the next two weeks.

Speaking to Bread for the World members during the monthly legislative update, Hill said, “Making hunger an elections issue requires advocates to build capacity, build relationships, and build for the future.”  Hill has been pioneering new practices to make hunger an election issue in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, just outside Washington, D.C.

Bread for the World believes we can end hunger by 2030 by building political will to make ending hunger a priority for our nation’s lawmakers. Sending lawmakers to Washington, D.C., with a mandate to end hunger begins on the campaign trail when voters engage them on the issues publicly.  Hill urged advocates to use the election resources designed to make hunger an issue in the next few weeks and in the next couple of years as we head toward the presidential elections of 2016.

Senior domestic policy analyst Christine Meléndez Ashley told Bread members what to expect in the post-election landscape. 

In November, Congress will return to the nation’s capital for what is referred to as a lame duck session:  the final session of the previous Congress before the newly elected 114th Congress begins work in the new year. The first order of business will be the budget, which was extended earlier in the year but expires on December 2. Congress must also pass the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act and work on a bill to renew $85 billion in tax breaks for individuals and businesses before the short session ends, which is expected to be on December 11.

Several issues that affect hungry people remain unresolved in the 113th Congress.

With two pieces of legislation affecting international hunger, Meléndez urged Bread for the World members to continue asking their members of Congress to cosponsor key bills: In the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) would free up much-needed food-aid resources to feed millions more people in need. Also in the Senate and House is The Feed the Future Global Food Security Act of 2014 (S. 2909/ H.R. 5656) – legislation that will give the U.S. government the tools and resources it needs to better combat chronic hunger and malnutrition as well as to expand and better coordinate U.S. investments in improving global food security. Bread for the World will continue to press members on passing immigration legislation that addresses hunger both here and in sending countries.

The next national grassroots conference call and webinar is scheduled for November 18.

 

An Individual’s Connection to the World’s Hot Spots Today

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Relief supplies to Central African Republic. (USAID)


The news has seemed especially distressing recently, like the world is falling apart all at once. There are troubling reports of violence in Syria/Iraq, Gaza, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and then there's Ebola in West Africa.

What can one person — an individual American — do to create peace and calm in far-away places and in such large, complicated situations? It's easy to feel helpless in times like these.

These crises are political, military, diplomatic, humanitarian, and health in nature—or sometimes a complex situation with a few of these aspects at play at once. They are seemingly fit for only national governments to deal with on a large scale. However, individual Americans are connected to these situations every day. Our federal government is acting on our behalf, with our tax dollars, and because of the positive influence of Bread activists in the legislative process of our Congress.

In all of these countries, desperate people are at least getting food to eat, and that is partly because of Bread for the World's work on food aid from the U.S. government this year, namely through Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid. The U.S. is the world's largest food donor, and much of the food aid from the U.S. government is given to and distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP), part of the United Nations.

WFP reported recently that it is responding to five level-3 emergencies, the highest level on its scale of severity. There were six level-3 emergencies until recently, when Cameroon was downgraded to level 2.

"This is the first time ever that the international humanitarian community has been dealing with five humanitarian crises of this scale at the same time," said Rev. David Beckmann, Bread's president. "We must continue to advocate to Congress on behalf of the millions of people experiencing hunger and poverty during this unprecedented time of suffering."

What's happening in these places

In South Sudan, the crisis ravages on as 1.8 million people have been displaced since conflict broke out between President Salva Kiir's government forces and rebels allied to his former deputy, Reik Machar. Over 10,000 people have already died. The outlook remains grim as food security may deteriorate sharply into next year. A famine is declared when at least 20 percent of households face life-threatening food shortages with an inability to handle the problem.

South Sudan has already received $1.2 billion this year from aid agencies, but an estimated $345 million more is needed to support the U.N.'s response there.

The Ebola crisis continues to deepen in West Africa as over 3,000 people have died from the infection in the region. The WFP has already reached more 180,000 people in Ebola zones with vital food assistance. Over the next 3 months, the WFP will be targeting 1.3 million people with food assistance, but it needs $107.7 million more.

Recent violence has affected nearly the entire Gaza strip. Nearly 1 in 4 people in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, but 350,000 Palestinians living in U.N. and public shelters are receiving ready-to-eat emergency rations of food on a daily basis. Food needs are increasing, and the chaos in Gaza requires U.S. aid to prevent starvation.

In Iraq, 1.2 million people are being targeted for food assistance. In August, over 190,000 people received family food parcels, which consist of food essentials, including rice, lentils, and vegetable oil.

In Syria, the conflict rages on without a solution, and humanitarian needs are increasing. Seven million Syrians are in need of food assistance. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 Syrians are fleeing every day to neighboring countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The WFP needs approximately $35 million a week to assist over 7 million Syrians in urgent need of food assistance. 

In the Central African Republic, approximately 175,000 people are displaced and an estimated 416,000 have fled the country. The persistent violence has affected the entire population, and 1.7 million people are at risk of hunger. But so far this year, WFP has assisted nearly 1 million people.

These simultaneous crises have stretched not only the WFP, but also other international humanitarian agencies, to their limits.

"Remember that U.S. food assistance, including our country's support for the World Food Programme, is providing help and a bit of security for desperate people in these situations," said Beckmann.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's October online newsletter.

Congress Passes Funding Extension Before Leaving to Campaign

Elections Cover 2014 SmallBy Robin Stephenson

With little fanfare, Congress passed a continuing resolution this week to extend funding for the government through mid-December. Lawmakers now head home to campaign for midterm elections, leaving a pile of unfinished business in Washington, D.C. 

Congress will not return to the capital until November 12. Bread for the World urges advocates to use the flurry of campaign activity as an opportunity to make hunger an elections issue.

“The more advocates lift up hunger as an election issue, the more Congress will act on legislation that can end hunger by 2030,” says Amelia Kegan, deputy director of Bread for the World’s government relations department.

The funding extension passed before Congress left on recess was modified to include additional funding to arm Syrian rebels, but did not include dollars to address the poverty that is driving children to flee Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Lawmakers did include instructions allowing certain federal agencies to spend at higher rates to address the surge of child refugees at the border.

Congress also returns home as the World Food Program (WFP) warns of unprecedented global food emergencies and dwindling resources. WFP will cut food rations to four million Syrian refugees by 40 percent in October because of shortages. Central African Republic, South Sudan, Syria, and Iraq have all been designated as level-three (the highest) humanitarian crises by WFP, straining the food aid system. 

As the world’s largest donor of food aid, the United States can free up even more food resources by increasing efficiencies without raising taxes. A bill in the Senate, The Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421), addresses reform, and we are urging senators to cosponsor the bill.

On the heels of the news that 45.3 million Americans live below the poverty line, Congress must address a jobs agenda that includes work that pays a living wage.  Tax credits that help end hunger are also expiring before the end of the year.

One bright spot is that the passage of the continuing resolution yesterday to fund the government allows us to avoid a partisan showdown like we experienced last fall that shut the federal government down for more than two weeks. However, Congress left a lot of work undone.

“These are big issues they are leaving on the table, “says Kegan. “When lawmakers return, they need to address all these issues in budget decisions by December 11.” 

Kegan stresses that advocacy efforts right now will reverberate long past December. She says the elections work will play a big role in ending hunger during the 2015 session if candidates hear from voters. “ The elections,” she says, “will set the tone for next year when Congress begins work on the 2016 budget.”

The national trends both globally and domestically have been very positive. World hunger declined in 2014, and a report from UNICEF released yesterday says that child deaths have been cut in half since 1990.  As the U.S. economy rebounds, more people are returning to the labor market, and poverty rates here at home have decreased slightly, by 0.5 percent, for the first time since 2006.

Now is not the time to let up on hunger. Engage the candidates and help make hunger history.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer

 

Return from Recess

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(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

As summer draws to a close, members of Congress return to Washington for a short work period before entering the final campaign stretch before the midterm elections. Here are hunger-related items before Congress this fall:

Food-Aid Reform

Over the August recess, Bread has been urging senators to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.). This food-aid reform legislation will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid and enable U.S. food aid to reach up to nine million more people. Read more about the legislation at www.bread.org/indistrict. While this legislation may not become law this year, more co-sponsors will significantly help push the issue forward in the new Congress.

The Senate Commerce Committee was scheduled to mark up the Coast Guard reauthorization bill (S. 2444), but that mark-up was postponed before the August recess due to unrelated issues. There is no word on when the legislation will come back up in committee, but Bread will continue to encourage senators to omit the harmful cargo-preference provision that the House had. This harmful provision increases the amount of food aid that must be shipped on U.S.-flagged carriers, costing the government an additional $75 million and would leave 2 million hungry people around the world without access to lifesaving food aid.

Immigration and Unaccompanied Children

In the weeks before the August recess, Congress was debating and crafting legislation to address the surge of unaccompanied children fleeing Latin America—primarily Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—into the United States. Read Bread’s bill analysis on the pieces of legislation that Congress considered before its recess at www.bread.org/indistrict.

Until recently, the debate has lacked much attention to the root causes of the crisis: poverty, hunger, and violence. However, during July, Bread activists sent over 10,000 emails to their senators and representatives, urging them to include these root causes as part of any legislation addressing the child refugee crisis. In meetings with congressional offices over the past few weeks, Bread staff have noticed that members of Congress are starting to incorporate root causes into their thinking about the issue.

When Congress returns, there will be two opportunities for legislators to address the child refugee crisis. Congress could pass a separate emergency supplemental spending bill as both the House and Senate were attempting to do before the recess. Alternatively, Congress could include provisions to address the crisis in the regular spending, or appropriations, bill, which is a “must-pass” piece of legislation to keep the government open. Congress will pass a short-term measure in September to get through the mid-term elections and will then revisit these appropriations decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year in December. Both periods offer an opportunity for Congress to add language addressing the surge of refugee children in the U.S.

Budget and Appropriations

In September, Congress will have to pass some sort of budget as the government's fiscal year ends at the end of the month. Congress may pass a continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a government shutdown. The easiest route is to pass a clean CR that just extends current funding levels. However, both parties will push for certain spending add-ons, such as funding for the border or wildfires. Some Republicans could also press for additional spending cuts. Any CR is likely to last until mid-December to push any concerns over a shutdown beyond the mid-term elections.

This post originally appeared in Bread for the World's September online newsletter.

Ebola Crisis Expected to Become a Food Crisis

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Members of a women’s farming group harvest rice in Liberia. (David Benafel, USAID FED)

By Robin Stephenson

Rice farmers in Liberia’s Lofa County were celebrating a rice surplus earlier this year, helped by a U.S. funded program to increase agricultural productivity. The small-holder farmers, who previously produced just enough to consume themselves, were able to sell 125 bags of rice through their cooperative.

Front Page Africa wrote, “The year 2014 may go down in history for these farmers.”

It may, but not because of a banner year for rice.

2014 will go down in the history books for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa. More than 1,000 Liberians have been infected and more than half have died since May. The World Health Organization expects the number to increase by 12,000 in the next six months. But Ebola is only the beginning. The collateral damage from the outbreak is hunger, without increased interventions of food assistance. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone face a similar narrative. Now Nigeria and Senegal are also reporting cases of the virus.

Liberia is still struggling to recover from years of civil conflict. Rebuilding the infrastructure required to sustain a healthy economy as well as an effective public health care system takes time. Poverty rates in the West African country remain high and chronic malnutrition stands at 36 percent.

Rice harvests in Liberia, which occur September to December and are expected to be above average this year, will help mitigate hunger in the short term, but the outlook for the next hunger season is bleak. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is predicating increased food insecurity throughout March of 2015 due to market disruptions and labor shortages. The World Food Program (WFP) reports that the majority of Ebola victims are between the ages of 15 and 45, which will reduce household incomes for hundreds of households.

Investments in projects focused on poverty before the outbreak will lessen the need for assistance later, but it won’t be enough. The WFP is bracing for more humanitarian need throughout the region.

Food insecurity in West Africa will just add to an already over-taxed food assistance system. Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and people threatened by looming famine in the Central African Republic and neighboring South Sudan are already in need of precious food aid resources.

It sounds overwhelming but we can do more with some of the resources we already have. By creating more flexibility in the U.S. food aid program, we can reach more people. Pilot reforms, such as those that buy food near a disaster instead of shipping commodities from the United States, have helped get food to millions more people and build resilience against future disasters.

If Congress passes the Food for Peace Reform Act (S.2421), we can reach 9 million more people and, during emergencies, deliver food two months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Smarter food aid can do more than reach more people. It can build on progress already made. Liberia has worked hard to make progress on hunger, with help from foreign donors like the United States. Sending commodities will help deal with hunger today, but buying locally will help strengthen their economy tomorrow.

When the last case of Ebola goes into the history books, smart food aid means Liberia can return to making progress on ending hunger.

The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.

 

Eleven Days and Three Big Issues: Will Congress Act?

Capitol
(Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)


By Robin Stephenson

An expiring budget, food aid reform, and a humanitarian crisis at the border await Congress. After hearing from the voters, will Congress return from a five-week recess on September 8 ready to act on these connected issues?

Asked if it is possible, Amelia Kegan, Bread for the World’s deputy director of government relations, answers emphatically. “Absolutely. If they have the political will and make ending hunger a priority, they will work together.”

“These issues are too important for Congress to sit on any longer.”

The 2014 budget expires October 1. Congress has only 11 working days to pass a temporary extension before going on another break or face a government shutdown.

In addition to simply extending the budget, Congress should protect funding for WIC and maintain a strong safety net as the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession. As the economy slowly improves, further cuts could sink more Americans into deeper poverty.

Looming famine in South Sudan, drought in Latin America, and Ebola in West Africa are wreaking havoc with global food security – not to mention the millions of conflict-displaced families needing help in the Middle East. Efforts to address global hunger today mitigate food prices and global security concerns in the future.

Boosting poverty-focused development assistance is an investment that will decrease hunger in future food emergencies. Programs like Feed the Future, which take a long-term approach to building food security, are saving lives and building resilience in countries like Tanzania.

There is an opportunity to make our U.S. food aid—programs that respond to global disasters—do more with reform. Senators can build momentum for even more flexible and efficient food aid by cosponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 2421) and holding a hearing during this session.

Funding smaller reforms passed in the farm bill will free up the funds needed to help more people now and expand programs that are already working. For example, Guatemala has some of the highest rates of malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere and is one of the countries children are fleeing for the U.S. southern border. Catherine Pascal Jiménez, who is featured in the 2014 Offering of Letters, can keep her children at home thanks to a U.S.-funded food-aid program.

Ignoring the humanitarian crisis at the border or criminalizing children who flee poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America will not stop the flow of migrants. Funding global anti-hunger programs that can address economic stability in the sending countries is a first step in stemming the tide of hungry people seeking refuge. Congress must act quickly with emergency funding on its return to Washington.

Swift action may be a tall order, and there is certainly a reason to be pessimistic with this unproductive Congress. However, this is a democracy, and as Kegan points out, “Members who don’t listen to voters don’t stay in Washington.”

Kegan says faithful advocates need to make a lot of noise as Congress returns to the nation’s capitol next week. “If enough people demand action, they will act.” 

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.

Flexible Food Aid Meets People Where They Are

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Reforms to make U.S. food aid more flexible will benefit farmers, like the one pictured from El Salvador, and local economies  to build resilience against future food insecurity. (Jim Stipe)

By Arnulfo Moreno

Give a man a fish or teach a man to fish? We all have that innate feeling to help someone when disaster strikes. Children should not have to go to bed hungry because a tsunami happened to hit their neighborhood or because they were living on a fault line. At the same time, aid should not destroy local economies in order to provide temporary relief. As this article highlights, the key is flexibility.

Most of the federal government's programs that deliver food aid were created in the 1950s, but many of the administrative policies haven’t changed since then. The global population in 1950 was 2.5 billion people. In 2010, the year most recent data is available, the population was more than 6.8 billion people and growing. The rigid restrictions on food aid did not take into account such growth or changes in agriculture technology and transportation, as well as cultural and political changes.

The most important thing that we can draw upon from this past half century is experience. We know that flooding a market with free food can paralyze local economies and has adverse effects on populations when the food is not common to the region. We have seen that having the flexibility to purchase food locally or to issue food vouchers benefits not only those receiving the assistance but also local farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurship.  

We can continue to invest in people and future trade partners by making food aid more potent. By allowing food to be purchased locally, we help those economies devastated by disasters, both natural and human-caused, and ensure that they become self-sufficient.

As a taxpayer, I want to make sure that my money is used to help those who need it, not to line the pockets of the shipping industry or other industries. Allowing food-aid programs the flexibility to choose the best transportation method and food-allocation method helps bring costs down and grants our government the ability to help millions more with no additional cost to taxpayers.

If we set aside money to help our brothers and sisters around the world, then we have to make sure that every penny is used as efficiently as possible. Food aid should have the flexibility to meet people where they are. Give people a fish and/or show them how to fish, depending on their circumstance—not on a rigid set of our outdated policies.   

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.

Act Now: Let's Get Food Aid to 9 Million More People

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The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421) will reform U.S. food aid and feed more people at lower cost. Mothers and children, like these in South Sudan, will benefit from targeted nutrition. (USAID)

By Eric Mitchell

A future free of hunger will require good ideas. I want to share with you a really, really good idea.

Picture this: Our federal government provides life-saving food assistance to 9 million more people around the world who experience hunger every year. What’s more, during emergencies, we deliver food 2 months faster and support local farmers, all without spending an extra dime of taxpayer money.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s called the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421), a bipartisan effort led by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

So what's the problem? In short, time. The clock is ticking on this Congress.

Nine million people can't wait for congressional inaction. Will you take a moment to email your U.S. senators asking them to co-sponsor this bill?

Bread for the World has a long history of winning reforms for food aid. Bread members helped improve the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust in 1998. That fund will help with the current famine threatening South Sudan.

And yet, we can and must do better. The future of food aid is the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014. Won't you please take a moment to ask your senators to co-sponsor this bill right now?

Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.

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