International food aid advocates worry about spending
By Dave Levinthal on July 28, 2011
International food aid advocates, steamed that congressional debt ceiling talks are overshadowing a looming humanitarian crisis in East Africa, plan to blitz lawmakers with an intense lobbying campaign aimed at changing their focus.
It comes at a time when East Africa is experiencing extreme drought and continued unrest in Somalia that has caused tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in neighboring countries, with hundreds having already died. But with the United States facing a fiscal crisis of its own, few lawmakers appear intimately engaged with issues beyond next week’s potential debt default.
“That’s why we’re mobilizing for an all-out fight to form a circle of protection for hungry people all around the world,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a predominately Christian organization that works to end hunger. “It’s really important that we reduce the deficit, but there is very broad support from Christians, Jews and Muslims that God doesn’t want us to reduce the deficit at the expense of poor and hungry people.”
Beckmann and other food aid advocates have met this month with President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), among others.
Oxfam International is also looking to boost its lobbying activities.
“We have this feeling of whether it’s even worth going up to the Hill at this time with everything going on, but of course it is,” said Sharon Scribner, Oxfam’s humanitarian policy manager. “We need to cast a wider net. We have always done advocacy — we have to do more, because foreign assistance is critical to saving lives.”
Much of their focus will train on emergency food aid cuts in the agriculture appropriations bill, as well as proposed development and disaster aid cuts — more than $100 million less than proposed — in the state and foreign operations appropriations bill. A World Food Program USA analysis of the bills indicates emergency food aid through the agriculture bill will be cut to $1.04 billion in 2012 from $1.5 billion this year.
“It’s almost unspeakable what’s happening,” World Food Program USA President Rick Leach said. “We know times are tough. But we really do need to maintain U.S. leadership to save lives.”
Food aid organizations have spent less on federal lobbying efforts in recent years. Bread for the World spent less on lobbying in 2009 and 2010 — $59,000 and $63,000, respectively — than it has at any point this century, federal records show. The World Food Program USA recorded just more than $77,000 in federal lobbying expenditures during 2010, down from more than $130,000 in 2009. Oxfam’s $364,000 last year is its smallest lobbying output since 2006.