This editorial ran in Agri-Pulse on January 27, 2021.
Kansans take pride in our farmers and ranchers feeding a hungry world. Since the enactment of the Food for Peace Act under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, America has reached more than 4 billion hungry and starving people in the world, saving countless lives. As the administration highlights its “Made in America” agenda aimed at supporting domestic manufacturers, President Biden should recognize the vital role farmers and ranchers play in U.S. international food aid programs and make certain that American agricultural producers are not forgotten in the administration’s initiatives.
Under the guise of “food aid reform,” the Obama administration proposed a massive overhaul of U.S. international food aid that would have damaged programs that provide U.S.-grown commodities to food insecure people around the world. Beginning with the FY2014 budget request, the Obama administration proposed eliminating funds for P.L. 480 Title II, the preeminent Food for Peace program. While Food for Peace Title II funds are required to predominately be used to purchase food grown by U.S. farmers and ranchers, the Obama administration proposed to instead shift these funds to programs that provide greater flexibility to purchase commodities from our foreign competitors.
In subsequent budget requests, the Obama administration proposed setting aside 25 percent of Food for Peace Title II funds to be used as cash-based assistance. In other words, the proposal would have taken away one-quarter of the approximately $1.3 to $1.7 billion program used to purchase and transport U.S.-grown commodities and instead turned it into straight cash assistance to foreign countries.
The Obama administration’s proposal to significantly diminish the role of U.S. farmers and ranchers in our food aid programs showed a lack of recognition of the importance of these programs to American producers, and vice versa. These programs provide economic value to our food producers as international food aid represents a key export market in which to sell our wheat, sorghum, rice and other farm goods. Conversely, American producers, and the state and national associations that represent them, provide critical political support for the continuation of U.S. international food aid programs. This means proposals to reduce or eliminate the role of U.S. farmers and ranchers in the programs both harms the producers and diminishes support for the programs themselves.
I continue to believe there is an important role for international agricultural development efforts, as well as narrow, targeted local and regional purchase initiatives. I have supported these efforts under both the Obama and Trump administrations as a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, including as a member of the State and Foreign Operations and Agriculture Subcommittees. However, these initiatives ought to be in addition to food aid programs that provide in-kind contributions of U.S. commodities, not in lieu of these programs.
Attacks on these programs come from both sides of the political spectrum but so does support. I objected to the Trump administration’s budget proposal to eliminate funding for certain food aid programs, including Dole-McGovern Food for Education. Today, I stand willing today to work with the Biden administration to make certain U.S. international food aid programs continue to provide lifesaving assistance to millions of hungry and starving people around the world.
During this week of highlighting the administration’s domestic agenda, President Biden ought to take the opportunity to affirm our nation’s farmers and ranchers are included in these measures. Further, the President should send Congress a budget request this year that calls for robust funding for international food aid programs that utilize U.S.-grown commodities and rejects efforts to diminish the role of our nation’s farmers and ranchers in the programs.
Our nation’s international food aid programs represent the best traits of America – moral clarity, leadership and compassion. Our farmers and ranchers are, and should continue to be, an integral part of these efforts. Working together we can ensure programs such as Food for Peace Title II and Dole-McGovern Food for Education have a bright future, but our successes will depend on an agenda that includes support for U.S. farmers and ranchers in our international food aid programs.
Senator Jerry Moran represents Kansas in the U.S. Senate and is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, and the co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus.