Senators to Obama: Keep Food for Peace

 

April 2013

 

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A bipartisan collation of 21 senators recently signed a letter to President Obama to “maintain funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food for Peace Program, also known as Public Law 480, in your Fiscal Year 2014 budget request to Congress.”

 

The senators, who are from all over the country, were responding to published reports that the Office of Management and Budget would be eliminating the multi-billion dollar program in favor of providing straight cash donations to nongovernmental organizations or the affected countries directly. In addition, Congress passed and the president signed a surface transportation bill last summer that reduced the percentage of food aid cargo that would be carried by U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels.

 

Also speaking out recently on behalf of the program were the Navy League of the United States and a key industry coalition, USA Maritime.

 

The Food for Peace Program has been a staple of American diplomacy since its inception in 1954, bringing American-grown grain and food products aboard U.S.-flag vessels to the world’s hungry and afflicted. Besides helping people in need globally, it has provided steady employment for American farmers and merchant mariners, so they and their ships would be available to transport military cargo in times of crisis.

 

“Food for Peace provides economic benefits at home, stimulating our farm and transportation industries,” stated the senators’ letter of Feb. 20. “This program is important to American farmers and shippers and developing nations around the world.”

 

Those signing the letter include Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Tom Harkin (DIowa), David Vitter (R-La.), Barbara Mikulski (DMd)., John Boozman (R-Ark.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Johanns (RNeb.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

 

Navy League President Dale Lumme, writing to the head of the Office of Management and Budget on behalf of the organization’s 48,000 members and 250 worldwide councils, stated, “We urge you to maintain the structure of and funding levels for the Food for Peace and Food for Progress programs…. These food aid cargo programs are necessary to maintain the commercial U.S. Merchant Marine and play an important role in American diplomacy.”

 

He added, “Cancelling this vital program will significantly undermine the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine and have devastating impacts to our national security. The United States Merchant Marine has been a necessary part of our national defense since the founding of our nation. The U.S. government relies on U.S.-flag, U.S.- crewed ships in a public-private partnership with the Department of Defense to ensure the safe transportation of critical cargo anywhere in the world at any time – especially during times of war or national emergency.”

 

Lumme also pointed out that the Food for Peace program helps maintain tens of thousands of American jobs in various sectors while generating almost $2 billion in economic output.

 

Meanwhile, USA Maritime Chairman James Henry in late February issued a statement that read in part, “USA Maritime is deeply disappointed to learn that the Obama Administration is considering the elimination of our flagship international food donation programs, Food for Peace (PL 480) and Food for Progress. Since 1954, Food for Peace alone has benefited more than three billion people in 150 countries and is an important symbol of America’s goodwill. Any move to eliminate these important U.S. commodity donation programs would be shortsighted, ineffective, and could ultimately jeopardize national security and merchant mariner jobs.

 

“Unlike other foreign aid programs, these time-tested programs do more than just send aid overseas,” he continued. “Food for Peace is a point of pride for the 44,000 American farmers, shippers, processors, port workers, and merchant mariners whose jobs depend upon the program. Food for Peace is not just a handout. It’s the sharing of American bounty and American know-how to help rescue those less fortunate from starvation and chronic food insecurity. By creating a uniquely sustainable public-private partnership among American faith-based organizations and charities, U.S. industry, and the U.S. government, Food for Peace leverages private and public resources to make a meaningful difference for millions of people in a way that government alone or cash handouts simply cannot.”

 

Another consideration, Henry pointed out, is that the “same U.S. citizen mariners and U.S.-flag ships that deliver food aid under the Food for Peace program also provide vital transport capabilities for our troops. In fact, they delivered more than 90 percent of defense cargo to military posts in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, without the base of food aid cargoes to help sustain the commercial U.S.- flag fleet, we will not be able to sustain the national defense sealift capability our military needs without significant additional federal expenditures.”

 

He concluded, “We all agree on the importance of reducing spending during these trying economic times, but the Food for Peace program has already been cut 35 percent since 2008 despite increased need among the most vulnerable populations in the world. Now is not the time to eliminate the most dependable tool we have to fight global hunger.”

 

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