Senate rejects major changes to US food aid program

Volunteers handle sacks of soy-fortified Bulgar Wheat for Haiti earthquake survivors in 2010. The appeal to increase USAID Food for Peace program budget has been declined by the senate. Photo by: USAID / CC BY-SA

The U.S. Senate agreed to give only $60 million a year for the purchase of locally-sourced commodities, much less than requested under President Barack Obama’s proposed reform of USAID’s Food for Peace program.

In a voice vote on Monday, a majority of senators decided to include an amendment in the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 to increase that part of the food aid budget by just $20 million a year, thus rejecting Obama’s call for the most dramatic change in the program since its creation in 1954.

The decision is seen as a blow for the proposed new strategy for delivering food aid that envisions gradually scaling back the traditional strategy of buying American surplus and using those funds to purchase locally-sourced food to both deliver it faster and spur local business.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah has insisted that the plan is not to overhaul Food for Peace but make it more “more rapid, cost-effective, and life-saving.”

Shah however failed to persuade the powerful agribusiness and shipping lobbies, as well as legislators from rural states.

Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2014 included $1.8 billion for food aid, of which $1.4 billion would go toward emergency food response, and at least 55 percent of that would still be used to support American farming and shipping. The rest was expected to finance the distribution of cash coupons as well as food bought in the developing world.

Food for Peace received about $1.46 billion in 2012, according to USAID data.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.