House Ag Committee Pushes Back on Administration Efforts to Gut Food Aid Programs

Jun 24, 2015
Wants answers
WASHINGTON, DC – The House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing today with Phil Karsting, Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) and Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, USAID to review international food aid programs in light of controversial efforts to reform the programs by the Obama Administration and some Members of Congress. 

USA Rice has been working in conjunction with a coalition of leading U.S. agricultural commodity groups to oppose the Food for Peace Reform Act and the Administration's proposal that will result in in-kind food aid programs being replaced with cash vouchers and the local and regional purchase (LRP) of food.

In-kind food aid, or the donation of commodities to countries facing food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition, and civil conflict, has been a critical pillar of U.S. foreign policy and a symbol of the commitment and generosity of U.S. farmers for more than sixty years.

Based on testimony presented, it was clear that in-kind food aid has saved countless lives, fed millions of school children, and helped several nations transition during times of crisis and disaster.  

U.S. food assistance programs are constantly seeking to achieve greater efficiencies and impact and have recently introduced several new micronutrient fortified products, including fortified rice, to help greater numbers of women and children achieve health and become productive citizens.  

And while there may be situations where other forms of food assistance can be helpful, it also became clear based on questions from Committee Members during the hearing, that there remain several unanswered questions regarding the transparency, effectiveness, and implementation of both cash voucher and local and regional purchase programs.  

“I represent probably the largest row crop district in the nation … we grow corn, soybeans, and a lot of rice … Can you provide an explanation of how you will police the use of cash vouchers for LRP and make sure that money is not being diverted?” asked Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham during the hearing.

“If the goal of food assistance is helping nations achieve food security and transition during times of crisis, it remains unclear to us whether any alternate approaches can reach the same number of beneficiaries and impact as in-kind food aid,” said Betsy Ward, president & CEO of USA Rice.  “Food aid remains an important pillar of USA Rice's programming and keeping in-kind food aid as part of U.S. government assistance programs will continue to be a top line policy initiative for our work this year.”

Ward pointed out that food aid is also a significant component of U.S. foreign policy and that switching from in-kind food programs could result in a loss of control on the ground.

“We all want aid going to where it’s needed and where it should be going,” she said. “It’s too easy to divert cash for other non-aid uses.”