Politics of Poverty

5 ways the President’s budget would shift food aid

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Local purchase of food, long-term programs, the end of monetization–all looking good to Oxfam.

We’re still looking over the details, but the first look at President Obama’s proposal to overhaul the international food aid program looks very good. Oxfam has been working this issue for more than a decade and we observe that the changes would:

(1) Cut funding of the primary food aid program (PL 480), which in FY13 was funded at $1.36 billion.

(2) Shift $1.1 billion to a different disaster response budget account under USAID for emergency food assistance. This would allow using more flexible food assistance tools like local purchase of food, or using vouchers instead of food distribution;

(3) Shift $250 million to a development budget account at USAID to support longer-term food assistance programs with food aid resources. This is an addition to the $80 million in funding within this account that is already available for this purposes, bringing total DA funding for non-emergency food aid to $330m;

(4) Create a new highly flexible $75 million emergency contingency fund; and

(5) Shift $25 million to the US Maritime Administration to ensure that US military readiness of the US shipping industry is maintained, since less food aid is likely to get shipped overseas.

A child in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia stands near a wall made of USAID food aid containers in the flood-destroyed area of Bahere Tsege in 2006. Photo: Liz Lucas/Oxfam America

The proposal would end the practice of “monetization” which provides cash to NGOs doing food security programs in developing countries but is highly inefficient and wastes a lot of money.  The proposal would require that 55% of the emergency food aid be procured from the US.  We hope that there is a continuing effort going forward to reduce the requirement that US food aid is tied to domestic sourcing. We recognize that US commodities still have a role to play in addressing hunger, but USAID should not have its hands tied in making the decision about how best to reach those in need.

Already today, two Republican Senators have expressed openness to looking at the proposal and making reforms.  Looks like this could have legs!

USAID Administrator Raj Shah will make a speech on the proposal later today.

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