Congressional Budget Deal Cuts International Food Aid By Millions


The bipartisan budget deal on track to pass the Senate is due to cut international food aid to millions who need it, thanks to a continued requirement to ship American food abroad rather than purchasing from local producers.

The deal crafted between Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday night, passing the cloture vote needed to prevent a filibuster ahead of the final vote on the measure. Buried within the proposal, however, are cuts that will in effect decrease the amount of food aid that the U.S. is able to provide overseas. At present, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration provides reimbursement to the USDA and USAID for the “excess freight” costs that go along with shipping tons of food around the world. Under the terms of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, that reimbursement is cut off.

Currently, U.S. law says that 85 percent of all international food aid must be purchased from the United States, then shipped from its shores to the country in need. Under a proposed change to that format, introduced in President Obama’s FY 2014 proposed budget, the amount of food required to be produced in the United States would drop to 55 percent, with the rest of it being purchased from local sources through donated cash. What Congress has done, in effect, is the complete opposite of what the administration proposed: ending the repayment of funds to aid agencies that purchase American goods to send overseas.

“The Congressional Budget Office calculates that eliminating the cargo preference reimbursement would save a measly $75 million per year,” Kimberly Ann Elliot of the Center for Global Development writes. “But it could mean as many as 2 million more people in poor countries suffer from hunger and malnutrition because the food aid budget will now bear the full costs of Congress’ insistence on subsidizing mostly foreign-owned, albeit US-flagged, ships.”

Secretary of State John Kerry pressed for the administration’s changes back in May when speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “So here’s the bottom line: This change allows us to do more, to help more people lift themselves out of hunger at a rapid pace without spending more money,” Kerry said of the proposed changes. “I think that’s a great deal for the American taxpayer.”

Despite the support of both Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) — the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee respectively — and other members of Congress, a bipartisan amendment to this year’s Farm Bill just barely failed to pass.

If Congress really wanted to save money without harming the people around the world who depend on the U.S.’ aid, there were ways to achieve that goal. CAP experts in a 2012 report called for the restructuring of the U.S.’ food aid program in a similar fashion to the method the administration advanced. “At a minimum, we recommend that nonemergency food aid be exempt from both cargo preference and ‘buy American’ requirements,” the report suggests, adding that “cost savings from these reforms would vary from year to year depending on fluctuations in food assistance. We estimate, however, that efficiency gains would range from $488 million to $628 million annually.”

(HT: Tom Murphy)