What is in this article?:
- International food aid programs could face major changes with new farm bill.
- Opponents say time not right for major reform.
- Proponents say changes will mean food will reach the hungry quicker, more efficently.
Another argument against making changes centers on the worry that food aid will end up in corrupt, despotic foreign government hands with little recourse.
The current system “is transparent,” says Caponiti. “We know the people running the (aid) programs have the best intent. No one is accusing anyone of not having good intent. But we’re always concerned about the lack of transparency that cash and vouchers could lead to.
“Also, there is talk about ‘local and regional purchases’ but we’re not sure how practical that is in many of the places that are in need.”
Caponiti circles back to the possibility of lost jobs. “The U.S. flag industry views this as cargo that it needs to be viable. There are a couple of different ways we maintain a U.S. flag presence in international trade. (International aid) is one of the ways we do it.”
It is no secret that U.S. flag shipping is more expensive than foreign flagged ships, says Caponiti. “We’re competing against the lowest common denominator in cost and, perhaps, operation. So, this is a source of revenue that our industry depends on. That’s why it’s important to maritime.”
If U.S. jobs are lost will that actually lead to ships being retired?
“A permanent loss of cargo in the food aid program could lead to ships no longer being able to remain under U.S. flag,” says Caponiti. “We are concerned that would be a permanent loss. If we don’t have this (aid) cargo to rely on from year to year, it could result in the loss of ships.”
Opponents to the reform estimate that the current system supports 33,000 jobs in the transportation sector alone.
“We’re not saying that 33,000 jobs would be eliminated by the proposal – but it would have a negative impact if there is less grain originated from the United States,” says Caponiti. “It’s kind of hard to be specific on what the impact would be (with proposed changes). The Senate proposal talks about ‘up to’ this and ‘up to’ that. It depends on what they actually do with it, the degree they might adopt these things.”
Munoz backs the Senate approach to reform. “We stand behind our analysis that the Senate bill provides the basis for the kind of incremental reform that it’s important to achieve given what the (Obama) administration wants to go in. We still believe the House version of the bill isn’t a serious effort at reform.”
The Senate farm bill, says Munoz, takes a number of steps to provide greater flexibility to USAID. “There are administrative steps, steps related to cash for in-kind commodities, for example. The Senate would give USAID more flexibility to decide what kind of response is most appropriate. That particularly true when looking at non-emergency development programs.”
In addition, the Senate would make permanent what was in the 2008 farm bill: a pilot program for the local and regional procurement of food. That is up to $60 million annually and would be administered by the USDA.
“The House bill does not include the flexibility and local and regional procurement,” says Munoz. “In fact, the House bill takes us several steps backwards – particularly in terms of maintaining USAID annual reports touting the benefits of modernization.”
Lastly, there is a significant issue that hasn’t gotten much attention, says Munoz. “That includes funding for the ‘famine early warning system.’ That’s an early-warning, protection and response capacity that USAID employs around the world. The House has a much smaller budget for that line-item than the Senate. That really threatens the viability of that program as it does the overall capacity of the agency to conduct meaningful and rigorous oversight of the programs.”