WASHINGTON, DC -- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing last week to look at ways to modernize the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Food For Peace Program. The chairman of the committee, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), is a frequent critic of the current program structure, and has sought to push through various reforms with the goal of increasing cash/voucher-based food aid and reducing or eliminating in-kind aid.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) opened the hearing calling for the total elimination of the current cargo preference program requiring that 50 percent of all food aid shipped overseas is on U.S. flagship carriers. Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) endorsed the need to eliminate cargo preference but also broadened the scope of reform to include prepositioning, monetization, and an increase in the use of cash, and local and regional purchase-based food assistance.
Four witnesses, from USAID's Office of Food For Peace, Catholic Relief Service, the Government Accounting Office, and Cornell University, were unanimous in their agreement about the need to reform the Food For Peace Program for greater efficiencies and made strong statements about the need to eliminate cargo preference and increase cash-based assistance.
The U.S. agricultural community, including USA Rice, historically has worked together in coalition with the maritime industry and private voluntary organizations (PVO) to fight for food aid budgets and to keep U.S. programs focused on in-kind food aid.
"We believe current U.S. food aid programs work and while there is always room for reform and improvement in these programs, we maintain that food must continue to be a critical part of all future U.S. food assistance programs," said USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Hanks. "We will face ongoing criticism of the current food aid paradigm and it will be critical going forward for the agricultural community to communicate the success and importance of these programs."