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MFAN Statement: Food Aid Reform Act Would Maximize Efficiencies and Save Lives

May 16th, 2013
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May 16, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

We strongly commend House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Africa Subcommittee Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA) for introducing the Food Aid Reform Act (H.R. 1983). The legislation includes common sense reforms that would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. food aid. If adopted, the reforms proposed in this legislation would more feed more people, more quickly while saving taxpayers $500 million over the next ten years.

Since its founding, MFAN has advocated for bold action on food aid, an area where better policies would maximize efficiencies and save additional lives. In 2011, MFAN committed itself to advocate for common sense reforms, including eliminating restrictions on the use of local and regional food procurement; repealing inefficient cargo preference provisions; and scaling down food aid monetization, which Government Accountability Office research has demonstrated is “inefficient and can cause adverse market impacts.” The wide-ranging reforms proposed by Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Bass would significantly advance these objectives. The Food Aid Reform Act eliminates superfluous costs by ending monetization, reducing U.S.-only procurement requirements, and exempting food aid assistance from cargo preference.

The bill is timely, coming shortly after the President’s FY2014 budget request’s bold proposal to improve the Food for Peace program that distributes emergency food assistance. MFAN joined much of the development community in support of the President’s plan to enhance the long standing commitment of the American people to respond to emergencies and reduce hunger and poverty around the world, by reducing inflated procurement and transportation costs, continuing shipping commodities from the U.S. while removing harmful restrictions on purchasing food locally and regionally, and funding more sustainable practices that encourage agricultural self-sufficiency and food security. The Food Aid Reform Act legislation acknowledges these reform priorities and would provide humanitarian organizations with additional flexibility to respond to food emergencies.

With improved coordination, U.S. development and agriculture policies have the potential to catalyze lasting change in countries that struggle with chronic food insecurity, ultimately terminating dependence on U.S. assistance in the long term. If adopted and implemented, this legislation would replace an antiquated system with a data-driven, evidence-based approach to sustainable food security while preserving the deeply valued connection between farming communities in the U.S. and the developing world.

MFAN applauds the introduction of this strong reform legislation by Chairman Royce and Rep. Bass and urges other members of Congress to work with them in passing needed changes to our food aid system. When budgets are under severe strain and global hunger afflicts so many, we cannot afford to delay these important reforms.

International aid groups support food aid reforms proposed by Chairman Ed Royce and Ranking Member Karen Bass

May 16th, 2013
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Food aid reform statement

May 16, 2013 (Washington, DC)- This statement is delivered on behalf of the following endorsing organizations: American Jewish World Service, Bread for the World, CARE, Church World Service, The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, Oxfam America and Partners in Health.

The endorsing organizations listed above applaud bi-partisan legislation introduced yesterday by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA). The Food Aid Reform Act (HR 1983) offers long overdue reforms to the U.S. food assistance program, similar to what was included in the Administration’s FY2014 budget submission to Congress. These reforms—if enacted—mean the U.S. would be able to deliver lifesaving food assistance more quickly, more efficiently and to millions of more hungry people every year with the same taxpayer resources.

More than 870 million people suffer from chronic hunger. With such considerable global needs, and our federal budget under significant pressure, our efforts to provide sustenance and nutrition to the poor must be designed to ensure the greatest impact using limited available resources. In the sixty years that the U.S. has provided food aid to the world’s most vulnerable populations, humanitarian organizations have identified best practices that can significantly enhance these programs’ efficiency and cost-effectiveness. While dozens of studies have identified reforms that would increase the reach of our aid, outdated statutes limit flexibility and impede progress toward this goal. In the words of U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah, “…we’ve learned that the current approach to food aid can become—at times—an impediment to its very own mission.”

Both the President’s proposal and this legislation address many long-standing concerns that have been raised about food aid. The Royce-Bass bill would end the wasteful practice of monetization. Additionally, it would remove restrictions on the shipping of food aid that slow its delivery and inflate the cost to U.S. taxpayers. “Cargo preference” was originally intended to maintain certain maritime capabilities necessary during the Cold War. Today, foreign-owned shipping companies exploit this “Buy America” loophole by operating U.S. flagged carriers and charging premium rates to the federal government. The practice restricts competition, increasing expenditures for ocean freight and costing U.S. taxpayers approximately $140 million each year. The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that up to half of its spending on food aid can be attributed to ocean transportation costs.

This bi-partisan bill provides the government with additional flexibility to respond to food emergencies: it maintains the ability to purchase and ship US commodities when it is the most appropriate tool, and allows for local purchase of food when such purchases ensure that food reaches hungry people in need faster and at a lower cost. We believe this bill could be strengthened by explicitly maintaining the structure for non-emergency food aid that has helped millions of chronically hungry families around the world.  We urge that as the bill moves through the legislative process that these important authorities are included.

These evidence-based reforms will significantly enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of our food aid program.  Chairman Royce and Representative Bass’s plan is a balanced approach to delivering food assistance and maximizing efficiencies. We urge the House Foreign Affairs Committee to swiftly approve the proposal. Our organizations thank Chairman Royce and Representative Bass for their leadership and stand ready to work with members on both side of the aisle to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are used more efficiently and feed the greatest number of hungry people possible.

The Bar on Food Aid Reform has been Raised: The Senate and House Must Act.

May 13th, 2013
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Food aid reform coalition

May 10, 2013 (Washington, DC)- American Jewish World Service, Bread for the World, CARE, The Modernizing Assistance Network, Oxfam America and Save the Children released the following statement today in advance of the Senate and House committee mark-ups of the 2013 Farm Bill:

With more than 870 million people suffering from hunger worldwide and Congress looking to ensure wise use of taxpayer funds at home, the 2013 Farm Bill represents a crucial opportunity to make our international food aid programs both more efficient and more cost-effective.

Unfortunately, the current Senate draft Farm Bill, due to be marked up this week, includes the same incremental steps toward reform as last year, but fails to address the fundamental changes that are so badly needed. We urge Senate leaders to work with the Administration to achieve stronger reforms in food aid programs so that American tax dollars can go farther and American compassion can reach more people in need. On the House side, we remain disappointed that the House Agriculture Committee draft once again fails to incorporate any reforms.

In his 2014 budget request, President Obama proposed common sense reforms that would feed millions more people and save lives by delivering aid faster with no additional cost to the taxpayer. This proposal sets an important precedent in building a more modern food aid program. Proposed reforms include allowing for greater flexibility in how the U.S. delivers food to hungry people overseas and ending the inefficient method of having aid groups sell food aid overseas to fund development programs, a practice known as “monetization.” This increased flexibility is a part of a package that would allow food aid to go farther, feeding 2-4 million additional people. These reforms have been greeted with interest by members on both sides of the aisle.

While we are supporting the Administration’s request that the FY 14 Appropriations bills be the vehicle for food aid reform, we recognize that there are several potential paths forward for Congress to achieve these much needed improvements to our international food aid program, and we are fully committed to working with leaders in Congress, including members of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, to get it done this year.

MFAN Statement: MFAN Welcomes Introduction of the Global Partnerships Act by Congressman Gerry Connolly

May 2nd, 2013
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May 2, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe:

We commend Congressman Gerry Connolly for introducing the Global Partnerships Act of 2013 (H.R. 1793), which would overhaul the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961 and make U.S. foreign assistance more efficient and effective. Importantly, this bill—whose original co-sponsors include Reps. Karen Bass and Earl Blumenauer—builds on strong leadership from former Congressman Howard Berman, who dedicated his time as Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to producing a new, rational legislative approach to U.S. global efforts to alleviate poverty, spur economic growth, combat disease, and respond to humanitarian crises.

Modernizing the FAA is a founding principle of our coalition, and we continue to believe this legislation will make our foreign assistance programs more responsive to current and future challenges and help to ensure that the important steps the Obama Administration has taken to implement these reforms are protected. We are particularly pleased that H.R. 1793 prioritizes the following reform principles:

  • Promote local ownership and partner with governments and citizens to set priorities;
  • Strengthen accountability and transparency through rigorous monitoring and evaluation to better inform budget planning;
  • Ensure program decisions are evidence-based;
  • Adopt a more integrated, coordinated, outcome-based approach to development that is flexible within and across sectors and agencies; and
  • Elevate USAID as the U.S. Government’s lead development agency.

The President’s latest budget request reaffirms his commitment to a more evidence-based, selective approach to foreign assistance while maintaining leadership on global health issues like HIV/AIDS and exercising new leadership with a strong proposal to reform the way the U.S. delivers food aid. MFAN hopes that other Members of Congress and Obama Administration officials will join Rep. Connolly and his co-sponsors to make permanent the reforms outlined in this legislation. We look forward to playing a constructive role in this effort to make our foreign assistance more effective and accountable.

 

Get the Facts on Food Aid Reform

May 1st, 2013
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President Obama’s FY2014 budget request proposal to reform food aid has sparked renewed debate on whether the current system could provide food to those in need more effectively and efficiently. The President’s proposal aims to improve the Food for Peace program that distributes emergency food assistance by providing more flexibility to purchase food locally and regionally in addition to shipping commodities from the U.S. Moreover, the proposal would eliminate inefficient practices such as the “monetization” of food aid that occurs when NGOs are provided commodities to sell in local markets in order to fund development projects, rather than funding these projects directly. In the weeks and months to come, the many stakeholders in the agriculture, cargo shipping, and development communities will continue to debate how to strike an appropriate balance between reaching as many people in need as possible as quickly as possible and allowing traditional U.S. domestic interests that are proud to contribute to feeding hungry people around the world to continue to play a role in international food assistance.

As U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah explained in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “If we can bring efficiency and effectiveness to this work; if we can save more lives without asking for more money; if we can freely and flexibility harness the tools we’ve developed and the knowledge we’ve gained, then we can do just that.”

Since the proposal was released last month, Members of Congress have begun to weigh in. In a joint statement, Congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel—Chair and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively—responded, “U.S. international food aid programs have long embodied the compassion of the American people.  After nearly 60 years of experience, we are encouraged by the President’s proposal to fundamentally alter our food aid program to reach more people, more quickly, at less cost.  Several recent studies have highlighted the need for reform.  We look forward to working with the Administration and our colleagues in Congress to modernize US food aid programs while ensuring maximum impact and efficiency.” Representative Nita Lowey, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, commented, “In a time of tight budgets, it is critical to get the best value possible for services and investments, including relieving hunger. This is an important proposal, and I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues to move toward more efficiency in food aid.”

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a public letter to the President, saying, “While it is imperative that measures be taken to improve the program, your Administration should instead focus on greater coordination, transparency, and accountability among the agencies that administer this program.  Eliminating in-kind food assistance will be disastrous for many US jobs and the domestic sealift capacity provided by the US Merchant Marine, on which our US military depends.”

MFAN is among a group of organizations that is supportive of the reform proposal. To ensure that those following this debate fully understand the broader issue and the proposed changes, below are important links to fact sheets and other documents created by USAID.

Key Resources on Food Aid Reform