Food Aid Reform

InterAction is working with its members to reform a key U.S. international food aid program known as Food for Peace Title II. Reforms to the program – one that is critical in the global fight against hunger – are aimed at improving and extending its reach so that more people receive life-saving food assistance.

Convening the NGO Community

InterAction helped its NGO members agree on a set of principles to guide food aid reform efforts. These principles include making sure any reforms protect the core focus and effective elements of existing food assistance programs, increase the number of people helped, improve the flexibility of programs, and are made in an open, transparent, and inclusive process.

Working with the Administration

In its fiscal year 2014 budget request, the Obama administration outlined a food aid reform proposal that would allow life-saving assistance to reach an additional four million people while making it more flexible and efficient. While Congress largely rejected the proposal, InterAction has worked closely with the administration to coordinate strategy on advancing responsible food aid reform through both the appropriations process and farm bill.

InterAction supports the provisions of the president’s fiscal year 2015 food aid reform proposal that build on previous reform efforts, including requesting new authority to use up to 25 percent of the total Food for Peace Title II appropriation 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, and would allow USAID to reach more than 2 million additional beneficiaries each year with the same level of resources. InterAction will continue to engage the administration to ensure that U.S. NGO priorities are included in any future food aid reform proposals.

Working with Congress

InterAction has led congressional advocacy on food aid reform and has been a key resource in educating Congress on food aid reform.  As a result of key reforms made in the farm bill and the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill, USAID estimates that an additional 800,000 people will be reached annually with the same level of resources.

Farm Bill
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642), or Farm Bill, was passed by the House in January and the Senate in February. The five-year bill has both domestic and international implications. On the international side, it includes key reforms to global food aid programs that will enable U.S. food assistance to reach approximately 600,000 more people worldwide each year - at no additional cost to the taxpayer. In particular, several provisions help ensure U.S.-funded international food aid programs have the flexibility to respond to famine and chronic food insecurity in the best way possible. Learn more here and here.
InterAction and a group of members urged members of Congress to support certain international food aid provisions in the bill. InterAction helped recruit House members to sign a bipartisan letter, spearheaded by Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) and Adam Smith (D-WA), in support of food aid reform provisions as well. More than 50 members signed it.

Appropriations Process

Another avenue for food aid reform is through the appropriations process. InterAction and its members urged Congress to support strong funding for the Food for Peace Title II program in fiscal year 2014, as well as key reform measures that will ensure more people are reached with food assistance. In letters sent to key members of Congress, InterAction and 26 other U.S. NGOs urged support for food security accounts and two food aid reform provisions.

In the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill, Congress provided strong funding levels for international food assistance, including $1.466 billion for Food for Peace Title II and $1.8 billion for International Disaster Assistance. Congress also adopted one of the reform provisions for which InterAction had advocated, providing $35 million in cash to reduce the need to monetize food aid, or sell U.S. food commodities overseas to pay for life-saving food and nutrition security programs. This simple change will improve the efficiency of the Food for Peace Title II program and help expand its reach to approximately 200,000 thousand more people - allowing them to better feed themselves, lift their communities out of poverty, and reduce the need for future emergency assistance.

InterAction has continued to advocate for Congress to provide robust funding for international food assistance and to adopt additional responsible food aid reform in the FY2015 appropriations process.  Both of the draft FY2015 agriculture appropriations bills in the House and Senate keep funding strong for the Food for Peace Title II program at $1.466 billion.  InterAction worked with key offices in the House and Senate to amend the bills to ensure that the program continues to reach as many hungry people as possible.  The Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment offered by Senators Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to maintain the provision of $35 million in cash to reduce the need to monetize and allow for more flexible programming options; the House of Representatives passed an amendment offered by Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Betty McCollum (D-MN) that would provide $10 million in funding for the newly authorized USDA Local and Regional Procurement (LRP) Program.  InterAction was proud to support both of these successful amendments and has continued to advocate for these provisions and strong funding levels overall to be included in any final FY2015 appropriations deal.  Unfortunately, despite continued strong funding for the Food for Peace Title II program, these two reform provisions were not included in the final omnibus spending bill.  InterAction will continue to push for these provisions in the FY2016 appropriations process.

Cargo Preference and the End of Reimbursements
Despite strong funding levels and productive reforms made through the farm bill and the 2014 appropriations process, potential changes to cargo preference requirements and the end of MARAD reimbursements threatened to wipe out these gains.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (H.R. 4005), which passed the House of Representatives on April 1, 2014, included a provision (Section 318) that would have increased from 50 percent to 75 percent the portion of U.S.-sourced commodities that must be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels.  This change would have increased transportation costs for U.S. international food aid programs by more than $75 million annually and resulted in at least 2 million vulnerable people losing access to life-saving food aid from the United States.
An updated version of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (H.R. 5769) did not include Section 318, thanks in large part to our collective efforts, but it did include a provision (Section 321, formerly Section 316 in H.R. 4005) that would have eliminated the requirement that the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) consult with other agencies, including USAID, over cargo preference implementation and enforcement.  The result could have diminished the effectiveness of U.S. international food assistance programs on the ground and reduced their impact on beneficiaries in critical need of food assistance (additional background here).
InterAction and our partners released a statement in opposition to harmful changes related to cargo preference, and our efforts paid off: with the strong support of several Senate and House offices, including Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), we were able to strike these harmful provisions from this legislation.  The new bill (S. 2444) was then unanimously passed by both the House and Senate in December 2014 and will have no negative impact whatsoever on U.S. international food aid programs.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 does still negatively affect U.S. international food aid programs, as it contains language that eliminates MARAD reimbursements to the programs. These reimbursements are valued at approximately $75 million per year, which means that approximately 2 million people will lose access to life-saving assistance each year as a result of the loss of these reimbursements. 
InterAction continues to take a strong, principled stand and to fight adoption of any provisions that would negatively impact U.S. international food assistance by Congress.

For further information on InterAction's advocacy work on food aid reform, please contact Katie Lee.