Food Aid Reform: 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 2014 Farm Bill and the fiscal year 2014 omnibus spending bill, USAID estimated that an additional 800,000 people would be reached annually with the same level of resources.
The Agricultural Act of 2014 (H.R. 2642), or Farm Bill, was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2014. 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.
Another avenue for food aid reform is through the appropriations process. In fiscal year 2017, InterAction strongly supports robust funding for international food aid programs, including $1.75 billion for Food for Peace Title II, $2.8 billion for International Disaster Assistance, and $80 million for the USDA Local and Regional Procurement Program. As mentioned above, InterAction is also advocating for bill language that would provide new authority to use up to 45 percent of the Food for Peace Title II appropriation in emergencies for interventions such as local or regional procurement of food, food vouchers, or cash transfers. InterAction estimates that increased funds and the 45 percent flexibility provision could allow USAID to reach up to 4.5 million more beneficiaries each year with the same level of resources. InterAction will continue to push for these funding levels and provisions in the FY2017 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.
InterAction and our partners released another statement in November 2015 in response to testimony given in a joint Congressional hearing held by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation. The hearing focused primarily on transportation perspectives on cargo preference, so the response was to balance the information being shared on the issue with an NGO perspective.
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.