U.S. Maritime Industry Rallies to Prevent Larger Cuts to Food Aid

Seafarers Log, May 2011

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The maritime industry made its presence known in the federal budget fight this past month. As Congress has grappled with how to cut spending and reduce the deficit, one of maritime’s key programs – the PL-480 Food for Peace program – came under attack, with opponents proposing an almost $800 million cut. After a lot of hard work by the SIU and the other seafaring unions, along with SIU-contracted operators and trade associations, the industry was able to halt – at least temporarily – the proposed cuts to the program.


H.R. 1, the first proposed funding bill for the rest of 2011, included a 42 percent cut to the PL-480 program. Because the U.S. currently is in the middle of the funding year, that 42 percent cut would have effectively ended the PL-480 program for the rest of 2011, and would have made it significantly harder to ensure the program was properly funded in next year’s federal budget.


Thanks to the effective work of representatives from the SIU, the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO), a number of Seafarers-contracted companies and industry trade groups, the final spending bill for 2011 passed with most of the cuts to PL-480 restored. Instead of a proposed 42 percent cut, the program received the same cut as other non-Defense government programs, 11.6 percent.


Given the current climate on Capitol Hill, this was no small achievement, according to SIU Legislative Director Brian W. Schoeneman. He added that while next year’s budget has yet to be decided, the battle over Food Aid demonstrates that the SIU and others from the maritime community have the ears of members of Congress who need to know the importance of a U.S.-flag fleet.


Food Aid programs like PL-480 that support the maritime industry are tied directly to merchant mariners and American-flag shipping through cargo preference laws. Cargo preference is a key federal support mechanism for the maritime industry, ensuring that government cargo is moved on American ships with American crews. It’s also vital to U.S. economic and national security, by ensuring that American ships have the cargo they need to support American jobs in peacetime. The various cargo preference laws have created and maintained thousands of middleclass jobs for American workers for more than 100 years.


The PL-480 program is one of the oldest and most widely supported foreign aid programs. Since 1954, it has provided needed food to millions of starving people in Africa and across the globe. Commodities are purchased from American farmers and sent overseas on U.S.-flag ships with American crews, where the grain is distributed to needy people. PL-480 provides jobs at home and goodwill abroad.


While SIU and the rest of the maritime industry were able to hold off substantial cuts to PL-480 in this year’s funding bill, Congress will soon be taking up the FY2012 budget and the annual appropriations bills, where the union expects another fight over PL-480. As always, the SIU will remain vigilant in protecting members’ job security and the maritime industry in general, and will work with Congress to ensure the maintenance of a strong U.S. Merchant Marine.

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