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Reuters Examines White House Proposal To Reform Food Aid Program

“A White House plan to modernize the major U.S. food aid program … is in trouble after fierce lobbying by farm groups, food processors, shippers and others who set out to sink the idea months before it was unveiled in President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget [request],” Reuters reports in an article outlining opposition and support for the administration’s effort to reform the Food for Peace program. One of the proposals set forth — “that at least 55 percent of aid spending, or nearly $800 million of the $1.4 billion requested, would be earmarked to buy and transport U.S.-grown food,” with the other 45 percent available as cash donations used to purchase local food or in the form of vouchers — “would still be the biggest change since the Food for Peace program was created in a mixture of Cold War ‘soft’ diplomacy, compassion for suffering overseas and a practical use of farm surpluses,” the news agency notes.

“In pressing the case to shift more aid to a cash system, the White House and the [USAID] have highlighted the potential ability to feed up to four million more needy people each year at a lower cost,” Reuters writes, adding, “But the proposed savings — $500 million over a decade — are too small to pique the interest of congressional budget hawks, especially when stacked against the vocal complaints about the potential loss of jobs and markets for U.S.-grown food.” According to the news agency, “[g]overnment spending of $1 billion or so a year to buy food for donation — typically rice, vegetable oil, flour, lentils, dry beans, a corn-soy blend, bulgur and dried peas — pales next to U.S. farm exports worth some $145 billion this year,” and the White House estimates “[c]ommodities shipped under the Food for Peace program ‘currently account for less than two tenths of one percent of U.S. agricultural production and about one half of one percent of U.S. agricultural exports.’” Reuters notes, “Congress could resolve the issue as soon as May or June, when it writes the annual funding bills for food aid and other agricultural programs. The long-term farm policy bill, another avenue for food aid reform, is scheduled for drafting in May” (Abbott et al., 5/1). Reuters also provides a factbox on U.S. food aid programs (5/1).