What is in this article?:
- U.S. food aid programs set for major changes?
- Fraud and austere times
- White House budget expected to contain proposals to change to U.S. food aid programs.
- Proposals include moving from buying only U.S.-grown commodities to more regional and local purchases.
- U.S. agriculture and merchant groups displeased with proposed changes.
Fraud and austere times
What about fraud – or outright thievery – by some of the governments of the people we’re helping? That’s been an issue for a long time. Will these reforms help curtail that?
“That’s a great question. There are always efforts with whatever kind of aid you’re delivering to ensure it makes into the people’s hands that need it most and it isn’t subject to corruption.
“I think there are checks in place with the current system to address that. Whatever reforms are made, we will continue to tackle that problem.
“I don’t think the current system is in any way superior to a cash-based system or one that relied more on local and regional procurement.”
When would this take effect if it goes through?
“This would be part of the budget process and would be for fiscal year 2014.
“The budget release will begin a period of consultation and debate about the direction of our food aid program. We look forward to that and believe it’s an important public debate to have. It will get some light and air in Congress so we can talk about the issues seriously.”
What about doing this while Congress is so concerned with cutting spending?
“It’s absolutely a concern. They’re looking at every line to make cuts and have been for several years.
“As Congress goes through that, one thing we’ve been trying to impress on members that the current system wastes tens of millions of dollars annually because of unnecessary overhead, because of excess shipping costs associated with the U.S. flag vessel requirement, and other special interest rules and regulations written into the law.
“You could take the current system, which spends roughly $1.4 billion on food aid, and with reforms make it a leaner, meaner system that reaches the same number, or more people, using less funding. So, if you’re looking to create smarter, more modern programs, food aid is one place where you could do a lot with simple reforms.”
What regions of the world is Oxfam watching closely? Are you gearing up to help any specific area that’s suffering?
“Last year, there was a fairly significant drought and collapse of markets in West Africa, in the Sahel region. That was an area we were very concerned about and we intervened with humanitarian assistance over several months. While harvest in that region – Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal -- has improved, it remains a precarious situation.”