It turns out it will require a delicate legislative touch to find a balance between international food aid reform and the needs of the U.S. maritime industry.

At first glance, such reforms would seem an easy task for the farm bill conferees. Who doesn’t want 4 million more hungry stomachs to be filled annually? Who doesn’t want food to reach the world’s starving and hungry much quicker?

Read more about international food aid reforms here and here.

But the initial impulse to help and make such reforms, argue those warning against quick action, masks a massive tangle of such humanitarian assistance and U.S. jobs and military preparedness. And they say that tangle is a product of outsourcing, the unfortunate ignorance of many lawmakers, and a misreading of just how vulnerable the nation is.

The reform-minded – which include the Obama administration and many aid organizations – want the new farm bill to allow cash and vouchers to be distributed directly to the world’s neediest, allowing them to make purchases from local markets.

The idea is to move funds to different accounts – including the International Disaster Assistance Account and the Development Assistance Account -- under the control of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Doing so would allow USAID additional flexibility to make choices depending on the situation.

If it was just a matter of feeding the hungry, says Denise Krepp, there would be no need for a big debate. But, says the former Obama political appointee and Chief Counsel of the U.S. Maritime Administration, that isn’t the case.

Krepp, currently a private consultant and professor at Penn State and George Washington University, spoke with Farm Press about the reforms’ implications for the U.S. maritime sector. Among her comments:

On the farm bill conferees being very tight-lipped…

“I’ve helped negotiate these types of bills before. The silence and lack of public comment means the (food aid reforms) are still being negotiated.

“What happens in these negotiations is the staffers negotiate the low-hanging fruit – ‘I’ll give you this if you give me that.’ They work their way up to the top issues and that’s when the dealing really starts. By ‘dealing’ I mean the issues will go to Senate and House leadership.

"If food aid reform goes through, something will be given up in return.

“That give-and-get just hasn’t been finalized yet. That’s what’s happening, right now.”

Does Krepp believe there will be a farm bill before year’s end?

“I do. That’s because there are a bunch of primaries coming up in the spring. Many members of Congress will have to go home and face constituents.

“Without a farm bill, there will be a wave of folks wanting to kick them. Regardless if you’re a Democrat or Republican, people will be saying, ‘I’m losing money.’ Farmers are losing money, people on SNAP are losing benefits and they’ll go after the lawmakers.

“Without a farm bill, these will be talking points in the endless political commercials we’ll all have to endure next year.”