Responding to an April 23 Washington Post editorial attacking the PL-480 Food for Peace Program, the president of the Navy League of the United States told the paper, “Our nation’s cargo preference programs, including the Food for Peace Program, are instrumental to sustaining the U.S. Merchant Marine and maintaining our national defense sealift capability with the attendant billions saved.”
National President Skip Witunski’s letter to the Post’s editor was published April 29. He pointed out the value the U.S.-Flag Merchant Marine provides American citizens in the wake of the newspaper’s calling for eliminating the use of American farmers and mariners to provide badly needed food to the world’s hungry. This Post editorial (as in previous ones published over the years) urged the U.S. government to provide dollars to non-governmental agencies or foreign governments directly to purchase the goods locally. The editorial further “cited studies suggesting that the government could save $80 million just from allowing greater freedom in shipping and eliminating monetization.”
Witunski restated the Navy League’s longstanding support for PL-480 and challenged the newspaper’s assumption in his reply: “The minor savings from cutting cargo preference must be viewed with the huge cost of acquiring sealift capability by other means and the damage to our U.S. Merchant Marine that would occur.”
The AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department Executive Board passed a statement of support for PL-480 when it met in March, while noting the unfortunate launch of “a pilot program a couple of years ago to take some of the money used for Food for Peace and simply ship it overseas with a minimum of oversight and accountability.” Additionally, in her remarks to the board, Navy League Executive Director Cari Thomas specifically underscored her organization’s support for cargo preference laws to strengthen the U.S.-flag fleet.
In his letter, Witunski wrote: “The U.S. Merchant Marine is a valuable national asset that has always been there for the United States in times of war and national emergency. The U.S.-flag commercial fleet carried more than 90 percent of the materiel to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Defense Department has repeatedly stated that its reliance on this public-private partnership saves American taxpayers billions of dollars.”
The Navy League of the United States’ mission statement calls for “a well-balanced, integrated, mobile American defense team, of which a strong Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine are indispensable parts.”
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