Saturday, September 06, 2014

Joy Dinaro: A Successful First Visit to a Congressional Office

Jasmine McBeath, Joy Dinaro, Ane Romero (back row), Kathy Chavez,(front)
By Joy Dinaro
(The author,  a member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Albuquerque, represented Bread for the World at a meeting arranged by New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps with the Albuquerque staff of Sen. Martin Heinrich on Aug. 28, 2014, Local Bread member Ellen Buelow joined in an earlier visit organized by New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps with Sen. Tom Udall)

Even though I was a volunteer tour guide in the Massachusetts State House during high school, and I visited the Roundhouse in Santa Fe with two different advocacy groups during this last legislative session, I had never been part of a "formal" visit to a U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative's office before. I was a bit nervous beforehand, but it ended up being quite low-key and actually a lot of fun!

I was in great company with Jasmine McBeath and Kathy Chavez of New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps, and I felt honored to represent Bread for the World, as I believe strongly in the issues that our organization supports  internationally and in the U.S.

Asking Sen. Heinrich to Cosponsor Food for Peace Reform Act
Photo: USAID (click to enlarge)
We met with  Ane Romero, a local staff representative for Sen. Heinrich. Jasmine briefly introduced us and what organizations we are representing, I then spoke about the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 (S. 2421), a bipartisan initiative related to Bread for the World's 2014 Offering of Letters.

I asked that  Sen. Heinrich consider cosponsoring this legislation, introduced by Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, and Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The purpose of the initiative is to free up as much as $440 million  annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid, allowing the U.S. to reach an estimated 7 million to 9 million more people, in a shorter time period.  Here are some talking points that I made.
  • The current policy requires that 100 percent of  food aid be grown in the United States. The Food for Peace Reform Act eliminates this requirement and allows either U.S. commodities or locally and regionally procured (LRP) commodities,vouchers, and transfers to be used—whichever is the most efficient option.
  • Current law also requires that at least half of food aid be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels. The reform does not bar the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from shipping on U.S.-flagged vessels, but provides the agency with the flexibility to ship on vessels that are readily available, helping improve response time and potentially saving $50 million a year.
  • The Food for Peace Reform Act would also allow for money to be provided instead of food in cases where it makes the most sense (Whereas, right now, sometimes sending food aid directly causes more problems economically than it helps the country in need). 
Oxfam Requests: Global Poverty-Fighting Aid,  Foreign-Aid Transparency
Both of the asks presented by Jasmine and Kathy are compatible with Bread for the World's food-aid and foreign aid efforts. And of course, Oxfam also strongly supports the Food for Peace Reform Act. Here is some information on Oxfam's requests:

Continued support of poverty-fighting assistance in the federal budget, including $1 billion for the Feed the Future Program (which aims to increase agricultural productivity, and prevent maternal and child malnutrition, and includes $133 million for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program).

Support for the  Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act (HR2638 and S1271) which requires all government branches involved in food aid to report where their funding goes (some branches are already transparent, but not all are).

Ms. Romero was receptive throughout our meeting, and jotted down all the pertinent details to pass on to Sen. Heinrich's DC staff.  She told us she did not have any questions, as our asks appeared straightforward.

After this more formal part of the meeting was concluded, Ane Romero and Kathy Chavez, both native New Mexicans, discovered during a conversation that they had common acquaintances. The conversation led to Ane's  mother, who is a farmer in the community of Dixon in northern New Mexico and the only woman on local water-rights board. Kathy suggested that perhaps Ane's mother could participate in the World Food Day Community Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 18 , which will focus on women farmers.

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