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Obama Administration Could Revolutionize Aid, Save Billions With Food Aid Reform

In a Foreign Policy opinion piece, John Norris, executive director of the Sustainable Security program at the Center for American Progress, examines how “[t]he Obama administration could revolutionize aid and save billions … with fairly minor changes to how we deliver food assistance abroad.” He states, “For all its good deeds, the Food for Peace program has also long supported some of the most obviously ridiculous practices in the entire international development portfolio,” and discusses the concepts of “cargo preference” — a law mandating “that 75 percent of all U.S. food aid be shipped aboard U.S. vessels” — and “monetized aid” — the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to purchase farm commodities, usually in the American Midwest” that “are shipped extraordinary distances at extraordinary costs on U.S.-flagged vessel.”

“You would think [reforming these practices] was a no-brainer, but then you wouldn’t know Washington very well,” Norris writes, adding, “[I]t appears the administration is simply trying to zero out much of the funding directed to USDA for the Food for Peace program and shift such funding directly to USAID.” He continues, “A fleet of well-connected lobbyists linked to large agribusiness and the shipping industry is already scrambling to strangle sensible food aid reforms before they even see the full light of day …, suggesting that cutting the funding to USDA amounts to some sinister effort to slash international food assistance, when in all likelihood the administration is simply trying to introduce common-sense reforms that mean not one single less person actually receives U.S. food aid.” He concludes, “The administration needs to get the full details of its plans for food aid in the 2014 budget on the table quickly, or all those companies who are taking both the U.S. taxpayer and a bunch of poor refugees for a ride are going to make sure it is all business as usual” (3/1).