Reforming U.S. Food Aid: An Opportunity to Move Forward in the Appropriations Process
U.S. food assistance has been critical in helping more than 3 billion people in over 150 countries over the past five decades. Food assistance saves lives, helps people recover from crises, and breaks the cycles of chronic poverty and malnutrition.
Unfortunately, humanitarian needs and the scope of food crises continue to expand while many countries, including our own, face increasing budget constraints. In 2011 alone, 206 million people were affected by droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Globally, 870 million people are chronically food-insecure. All of this underscores the critical importance of food aid from our federal government, which has long been a leader in providing this assistance.
Food-aid reform is the focus of Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters. It is a way for many Christians in thousands of churches and other faith communities across the country to collectively voice their concerns in Congress for the neighbors in God's world who live overseas.
The U.S. government must be poised to respond in the timeliest, most effective, and cost-efficient way possible. Fortunately, in January, some initial food-aid reforms were signed into law as part of the new farm bill. But those reforms can’t have any impact if they aren’t fully funded. That means Bread is looking to Congress and the Obama administration with a few key requests in the current appropriations cycle, including:
Flexibility through local and regional purchases
Having the option to obtain food closer to where it is needed would enable our federal government's food-aid programs to save more lives as well as money. The farm bill recently authorized a permanent local and regional purchase (LRP) program at $80 million a year. This money was in the president’s most recent budget request, and Congress needs to hear from constituents to be convinced of the importance of this program.
Currently, most food aid from the United States must be in the form of food grown and purchased in the United States and shipped overseas to the place of need. Shipping goods overseas from American shores is costly in terms of time and money. The alternative practice of buying food from local and regional markets for distribution, proposed in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, can be both quicker and more cost effective than the current practice.
Two independent evaluations by the Government Accountability Office and a congressionally mandated study by Management Systems International found that LRP programs have an average cost savings of at least 25 percent compared to similar in-kind food-aid programs. In some cases, these savings can increase to over 50 percent, as a Cornell University study documented, along with a 62 percent gain in timeliness of delivery. The flexibility, cost effectiveness, and timeliness of such programs means that humanitarian organizations can deliver food aid more quickly and at less cost to taxpayers while supporting local markets and communities in developing countries (private relief and development organizations, including those related to U.S. churches, are the entities that actually implement the programs under contracts with the U.S. government).
Other types of flexibility
One significant provision that was included in the president’s budget was language that would provide new authority to use up to 25 percent of funding in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of food, food vouchers, or cash transfers. As the president's budget request states, this flexibility ensures that emergency food assistance would be timelier and more cost-effective, thereby improving program efficiencies and performance. Bread estimates that the 25 percent provision alone would allow the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's main implementer of food aid, to reach approximately 2.6 million more people each year with the same level of resources.
No reforms matter if funding for food assistance and nutrition programs are cut. Because there have been more conflicts and natural disasters, the needs are actually greater, not less, and require continued U.S. leadership.
Funding international food assistance is essential to building food security around the world and ensuring that aid is not a handout, but a hand up, breaking the cycles of poverty and hunger to allow for sustainable achievements in international development. Not only that, but the types of food aid distributed address nutritional needs as well, especially among vulnerable groups like children and pregnant mothers.
Take part in Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid and hold a letter-writing event at your church or campus. Order your Offering of Letters kit at www.bread.org/store, or download the materials at www.bread.org/ol/2014.