With apprentices from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center in attendance, the union’s legislative director recently told Congress that the nation cannot afford to abandon its international food aid programs.
Brian Schoeneman testified June 7 at a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas). He spoke on behalf of USA Maritime, a coalition of American vessel owners and operators, trade associations and unions.
The other panelists were Ron Suppes, wheat producer, on behalf of U.S. Wheat Associates; Margaret Schuler, senior vice president of the International Programs Group, World Vision; Navyn Salem, founder and CEO, Edesia Nutrition; and Dr. Thomas S. Jayne, university foundation professor, Michigan State University, on behalf of the Farm Journal Foundation.
The hearing was called to address “the future of international food aid and agricultural development as a continuation of the committee’s series to examine all aspects of the next farm bill.”
Conaway noted, “Americans are big-hearted people and eliminating food aid programs goes against our country’s longstanding philanthropic commitment. For the past 60 years, U.S. foreign assistance has benefitted millions around the world in the form of rice, wheat, and other U.S.-grown commodities. Unlike cash-based assistance, sending commodities overseas through international food aid programs not only benefits recipients, but also contributes to jobs in the U.S. agricultural, manufacturing and maritime sectors, underscoring the role these programs play in an ‘America-first’ approach to helping others. I continue to believe there is an important place for these programs.”
Schoeneman said the administration’s emphasis on American jobs “resonated deeply for those of us in America’s maritime industry…. America’s merchant mariners, some of whom are with us today in the audience, have always answered our nation’s call to bring supplies to our soldiers, commerce to our partners, and food to hungry people.”
He continued, “America’s humanitarian aid programs have always put America first. From the beginning, these programs represented the best ideals America had to offer. American food, grown in American soil and harvested by American farmers, is shipped through American ports on vessels crewed by American mariners to feed millions, all through the generosity of the American taxpayer. This partnership has kept these programs strong for over 60 years.”
However, so-called “food aid reformers” have tried (among other misguided tactics) to turn the programs into cash giveaways. This would hurt the U.S. work force and almost certainly harm the intended recipients of the food, according to the SIU and many others.
Moreover, as Schoeneman told the committee, “I can’t put it any plainer than this: food aid is essential to the American Merchant Marine. It is one of the largest sources of cargo for our fleet today. We’ve seen what happens when we lose that cargo. In 2012, Congress reduced the percentage of food aid reserved for American flag ships from 75 percent to 50 percent. At the same time, USAID has been diverting money away from the purchase and shipment of U.S. commodities. The direct result was the loss of 25 ships – almost a quarter of the fleet – since 2011.
“More important than the ships, which are easily replaceable, is the loss of jobs,” he continued. “These losses represent the equivalent of over 2,400 seafaring jobs. America depends on its merchant marine to support our warfighters overseas, and without a merchant marine, we would be held hostage to foreign interests in any future conflict. The same can be said for our foreign commerce. Our merchant mariners are a vital national and economic security asset and food aid and cargo preference help keep those mariners working in peace time so that they are available in war time. Without them, we can’t defend America. It’s that simple.”
He concluded, “In the next Farm Bill, Congress should reject the calls for the elimination of these programs, and return them to their America-first roots.”
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