Report Reinforces PL-480’s Merits

 

August 2013

 

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In the current fight to maintain America’s highly effective Food for Peace program (PL-480), supporters have warned of the pitfalls of altering the program by making direct monetary payments to foreign countries instead of delivering U.S.-grown, U.S.-shipped food.

 

As SIU President Michael Sacco recently put it, “There are some who believe mistakenly that it would be better to just hand the money used for the program to foreign governments or other interests. As we have seen over the years, money has a way of disappearing while people continue to go hungry. For 60 years, there has been no doubt the food sent overseas by American farmers aboard American vessels has reached their destinations to help those in need.”

 

A new report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction indirectly highlights the need to maintain the accountability and transparency associated with the current structure of Food for Peace. The report criticizes the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for its lack of oversight in Afghan reconstruction. The report’s conclusion: “In the absence of effective oversight from USAID, IRD (International Relief and Development) made programmatic decisions that led to both waste and mismanagement of resources under the S-RAD (Southern Regional Agricultural Development) program. Robust oversight by funding agencies—in this case USAID, is the first line of defense when U.S. government dollars are on the line. In environments such as Afghanistan, strong oversight is especially important. However, in the case of the S-RAD program, USAID did not exercise oversight as effectively as it could and should have. As a result, equipment was purchased that may be left unused or stolen; inflated prices for agricultural products were potentially paid; and unnecessary costs for storing, disassembling, and distributing unneeded pumps were incurred.”

 

In response, one former government official noted, “The U.S. Agency for International Development does not have the oversight capability to implement the administration’s proposed changes to the current food aid program.”

 

Meanwhile, a recent news article pointed out the bipartisan support enjoyed by the program. Reporting on the defeat of an amendment that would have crippled PL-480, Mark Gruenberg credited maritime labor with helping lead the charge to save tens of thousands of American jobs tied to Food for Peace.

 

“Maritime unions, the maritime industry, the nation’s leading – and most conservative – farm group, and other transportation unions all joined together to defeat a bipartisan, Obama-backed plan to spend U.S. food aid money overseas,” he wrote, adding that the fight isn’t over.

 

Fortunately, hundreds of legislators sided with maintaining the program. As U.S. Rep. Steven Fincher (R-Tenn.) put it, “This amendment favors our foreign competitors over American-grown products, American-grown industries, and jobs filled by Americans. An American is employed at every step in Food for Peace. Americans grow the crops. The commodities are processed and packaged in the United States. Those packages are carried by our railroads and barges to American seaports and finally delivered to the receiving nations by U.S.- flagged vessels.”

 

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), whose district includes the Port of Baltimore, reminded his colleagues that U.S.-flag cargo ships used to ship food also ship materiel to troops.

 

“Policies such as the one embodied in this amendment would drive more vessels from the U.S.-flag fleet,” Cummings said.

 

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which is usually at odds with organized labor, told lawmakers that using Food for Peace money to buy things abroad would let host nations divert the cash away from the hungry – and cost the U.S. positive publicity.

 

“Cash too easily can be used for purposes other than feeding people,” Texas cattle rancher Bob Stallman, the Farm Bureau president, said in a blog. “Food can only be useful going into someone’s stomach. Shipping a cargo load of food, rather than the money to buy food – if it is available – is the best and most secure way to ensure taxpayer-funded international food assistance actually makes it to hungry people. Giving people sacks of food with ‘USA’ on them is good international relations. Seeing those USA-labeled food donations in news photos does make a difference!”

 

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