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Policy Focus: Two Steps Forward

Food-Aid Reform Begins, but More Work Needed

March 2014

This year's Offering of Letters campaign brings Bread members on a journey of urging Congress to make reforms to our federal government's programs that provide food aid overseas. The good news is that we have already taken two steps down the road in the right direction.

Two major pieces of legislation that have recently been signed into law — the long-awaited farm bill and the bipartisan budget agreement — each contained parts that affect the government's international food-aid programs. These new laws put into place modest but significant changes that mean 800,000 more people could have access to U.S. food aid each year. There is more work to do, however.

Bread's advocacy around the farm bill last year focused heavily on protecting SNAP (formerly food stamps), but Bread also led a coalition to support what the Senate included in its version of the farm bill on food-aid issues. The coalition succeeded in maintaining the authorized level of funding for food aid at $2.5 billion annually. The final farm bill also establishes a permanent program for local and regional purchase (LRP) of food aid, authorized at $80 million annually, and includes provisions that will improve the nutritional quality of food aid.

These provisions touch on all three of the main points that the Offering of Letters is asking people to make in their letters to their members of Congress. Expansion of LRP means that the government will be able to obtain food aid closer to where it is needed, rather than shipping food supplies from the United States, which is costly and can take months, delays that survivors of disasters, for example, cannot afford.

"Having a permanent LRP program and more of an emphasis on nutrition is a great step forward, but this is just the beginning," said Ryan Quinn, Bread's senior policy analyst of food aid. "Studies have proven that LRP has little to no impact on the U.S. agriculture industry, but can help millions more people in need, and most importantly, it is part of the 'hand up' we want to see with our programs." By supporting farmers and local markets in distressed regions, LRP is consistent with Bread's mission to end hunger and poverty.

Other reforms the 2014 Offering of Letters is seeking include reducing monetization, a practice in which aid organizations resell food-aid products in local markets to support development work, but can undercut local farmers in the process. "We have new ways to address hunger and malnutrition that didn’t exist in 1954 when our contemporary food-aid program began," said Quinn. Food for Peace will have the flexibility to broaden its scope and will receive a larger share of funding, decreasing the need for monetization. "Flexibility to meet the needs of each circumstance will allow U.S. food programs to save more lives and reach more hungry children and families," said Quinn.

But Quinn and others at Bread warn that these reforms are only the first steps in a longer journey. They encourage people to participate in this year's Offering of Letters campaign, which will run throughout the year. These programs are still subject to annual appropriations and need to be fully funded by Congress. Continued reforms to U.S. food-aid programs can translate into millions more people in need receiving assistance.

"These actions add to our hopes that churches across the country can achieve reform on a bigger scale," said David Beckmann, Bread for the World president. The thousands of visits, phone calls, emails, and letters to members of Congress by Bread members helped Congress to take these first couple of steps toward improving the government’s food-aid programs. While these changes are a step in the right direction, there is much more we can do to ensure that policies are better able to help people in times of crisis and in fostering long-term solutions to hunger.

Photo: Reforms to food aid could mean the U.S. government has the flexibility to purchase more food from local farmers like this one in South Africa. Stephen Padre/Bread for the World

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