Friday, May 23, 2014

How Coast Guard Reauthorization Measure Coud Hurt Food-Aid Reform Efforts

"US food aid saves millions of lives each year," he added. "Therefore, we urge Congress to reject any actions that increase transportation costs … and prevent hungry people around the world from receiving US food assistance."  -Allan Jury, senior policy adviser at World Food Programme USA
Section 318. That's not necessarily a number we should remember. However, as anti-hunger advocates we should be very concerned about ,the negative impact of this measure, which would reverse a lot of our work that we have done and continue to do via the 2014 Offering of Letters.

Let me explain. Section 318 was an add-on to routine legislation to reauthorize funding for the U.S. Coast Guard. Section 318 quietly restores the proportion of U.S. food aid that must be shipped on U.S. flagships to 75%. The full House approved the full measure to reauthorize the Coast Guard in April, with few legislators noticing that Section 318 was inserted. The increase would roll back the progress made in 2012, when Congress reduced the proportion of food aid required to be shipped on US flagships to 50%.

Photo: Stephen Padre, Bread for the World
Bread for the World, Oxfam and other anti-hunger organizations have obtained broad bipartisan support in efforts\to further reform food aid. That is probably why the U.S. shipping companies, with the support of some labor groups, sought this sneaky method to promote this cargo-preference provision. "Lobbyists in favour of section 318 have not been particularly vocal, though it is clear the shipping industry and certain labour groups have pushed for the change," said The Guardian newspaper via Inter Press Service.

The problem is that the increase to 75% in cargo-preference requirements means that a higher percentage of our country's allocation for emergency food aid will go to pay the shipping companies to carry surplus food to its destination. The shift of expenditures to pay the shipping companies means that as many as 2 million fewer people could be affected by a reduction in the amount of actual food aid. "This absolutely goes against everything Congress and the administration have been trying to do, in terms of being more efficient with government funding," said Ryan Quinn,senior policy analyst at Bread for the World.

Read more from  Carey L. Biron of  Inter Press Service/The Guardian (US food aid U-turn could put 2m people in jeopardy, warn experts), Alyssa Casey of Bread for the World (Food Aid Reforms Endangered), and Michael Helms of Oxfam America (Sailing in the wrong direction: Food aid as a Congressional tool for supporting the shipping industry).

What Next?
Photo: Eva-Lotta Jansson, Oxfam America
The Coast Guard bill goes to the Senate next for consideration. Bread for the World will strongly oppose any final legislation that includes cargo preference restrictions that decrease funding for flexible food-aid programs. The hope is that the Senate will remove Section 318 from a final measure to reauthorize the Coast Guard.

If the measure has not come up to vote by Lobby Day, June 10, then it surely will be an issue raised by Bread members during meeting with US Senators. New Mexico advocates are scheduled to meet with our senators on Tuesday afternoon.  See list of scheduled visits.

Bread  members from around the country also continue to  write to Congress personally and via an Offering of Letters at their congregation.

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