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Building Bipartisan Momentum for Food Aid

June 2014

Food-aid reform, the focus of Bread's 2014 Offering of Letters, scored a victory on May 22 in the Senate Appropriations Committee agriculture bill markup. The 2015 spending bill, which sets funding amounts for the U.S. programs that deliver emergency and humanitarian food assistance, will include $35 million for food-aid reform efforts. The funds would help food aid reach an estimated 200,000 more people in need.

Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that will provide for flexibility of food aid, one of Bread’s key points in the reforms it is seeking. The quick actions of faithful Bread activists who contacted the senators on the committee helped push the amendment forward. It passed by a vote of 16 to 14, and the vote was strongly bipartisan.

"Literally, people live or die by the decision we make here," said Sen. Johanns before the committee's vote.

However, the spending bill still has a long way to go before the Oct. 1 deadline — the start of the fiscal year. Once the final bill passes out of the Appropriations Committee, it will then go to the floor for a vote from the full Senate. Finally, if there is normal process, it will be conferenced with the House of Representatives version of the bill.

As part of this year's Offering of Letters, Bread and its members are urging Congress to update food-aid policy to better meet the needs of hungry people facing natural disasters, food insecurity and malnutrition, famine, civil strife, and other extraordinary circumstances. Thousands of letters from Christians have already arrived in offices on Capitol Hill, building the momentum for bipartisan efforts to reform food aid — as we saw in the May 22 vote.

The funds will help replace the practice of monetization in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work. But this practice can undercut local farmers in the process. The more flexibility administrators have in implementing Food for Peace, our federal government's largest food-aid program, the more efficient the development programs can become, allowing thousands of additional people to better feed themselves and escape hunger. Flexibility in design and implementation also helps us build resilience against future emergencies.

"This is significant and shows that there is a strong desire for reform that crosses party lines," said Ryan Quinn, senior policy analyst at Bread. "We can build on this," he said, "but keep in mind that we are also facing cuts if the Senate Commerce Committee includes a cargo-preference provision in a bill they are starting to write." (See "Exposing Special Interest that Would Take Food From the Hungry" on Bread Blog.)

The House recently passed a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that included a provision to increase transportation costs for food aid. This would limit the amount of food aid the U.S. could provide, and program costs would come out of Food for Peace funds. We are currently reaching out to faith leaders in committee member’s states and organizing sign-on letters to stop the provision in a Senate bill.

"This was a real win for hungry people and sets us on the right path,” said Quinn. “We should feel good and know our voices are making a difference. But, he cautions, "in a world where 842 million people go to bed hungry every day, and crises situations like Syria and South Sudan are getting worse, we have to keep this momentum going."

Photo: Before receiving assistance from the Food for Peace program, Davane Mesa Paulo was struggling with just a hectare of land and a few crops that he grew for food. "Hunger ran away from my house," he said recently. "So people started coming to ask how." (Bita Rodriguez/USAID)

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