SIU President Michael Sacco revisits the fight to maintain America's Food for Peace Program -- and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on it.
Supporters of the U.S. Merchant Marine understand that our victory earlier this year in the U.S. House of Representatives involving the Food for Peace program wasn’t the end of the fight, and that definitely has proven true. If anything, attacks on this extremely worthwhile program – vital to feeding millions of hungry people around the world and a key source of jobs for SIU members as well as tens of thousands of other Americans – increased as summer turned to fall.
I’m going to give our opponents credit for at least this much: They’re good liars. They’ve manipulated some of the media by mixing in just enough truth to appear credible, then shoveling deceptions on top of it. The results include accusations that this life-saving program (also known as Public Law or PL-480) somehow has the opposite effect and is harming the needy overseas. That’s nothing short of preposterous.
The short version of this fight is that foreign-flag interests and others who don’t care about American jobs want to take the money from this time-tested program and send it directly overseas. That approach could prove catastrophic for American national security and possibly fatal for some of the people who depend on food that’s sent from the U.S. on American-flag ships.
If you’re not up to speed on this battle, you should know that an estimated 44,000 American mariners, port workers, farmers, transportation workers and processors have jobs that depend on the program. If you count other domestic jobs related to Food for Peace, that number is close to 100,000.
In addition to being a source of good American jobs, PL-480 puts America in a positive light while literally saving lives. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with the United Nations, regularly report staggering statistics about world hunger, with heart-wrenching numbers that aren’t always easy to comprehend. But they add up to more than 900 million people around the world who suffer from hunger. Food for Peace brings relief to many of those in need, and it does more than feed people. It has served an essential role in supporting foreign policy and building important trade links for our farmers in countries like India, Poland, Romania, and Egypt.
There is another key aspect to this program. It helps maintain a pool of U.S. mariners who are available to sail on U.S. military support ships in times of need. No one has to take my word for it – our county’s military leaders have made this case for years. Food for Peace and other cargo preference laws are essential to maintaining our national defense sealift capability. Any decrease in food aid tonnage would have to be compensated for elsewhere in order to keep up that capability and keep those ships sailing.
Another problem with simply sending cash overseas is that many of the beneficiaries of Food for Peace are in unstable regions to begin with. Accountability would be a huge concern, and that’s putting it politely. This point was made crystal clear in a recent U.S. government report harshly critical of the transparency and accountability of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The same agency that oversees Food for Peace heads up that effort, and the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the report is that the oversight capability to implement the administration’s proposed changes to food aid simply does not exist.
The SIU is proud to stand behind the Food for Peace program, and we reject any further erosion of it. In fact, we’re going to continue working with our allies to not only preserve the current program but also restore it to proper funding levels that were in place before cuts took place in recent years.
Jobs are at stake, lives are at stake, and we’ll stay in the ring for as many rounds as this fight lasts.