Plans that surfaced in the White House's proposed 2014 budget to reorganize the decades-old Food for Peace program have legislators and ag groups concerned about the program's future.
The proposed restructuring could potentially eliminate the Food for Peace and Food for Progress programs and replace them with a smaller cash amount managed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Both lawmakers and the American Soybean Association say this plan could take a key market away from American producers and place aid recipients at risk, allowing them to purchase commodities from foreign suppliers.
Senators reiterated ASA's concerns in a letter sent to President Barack Obama this week, pointing out that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who signed the Food for Peace program into law, said the purpose of the program is to "lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and people of other lands."
Senators signing the letter – including Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. – say the program has linked rural America and the U.S. agriculture and transportation industries to communities in the developing world while building greater awareness and support at home for the needs of the poor and hungry.
Additionally, Senators add that the programs allow the agriculture industry to continue in a trade surplus, a benefit that should be noted.
More groups sign on
ASA is a member of a coalition of other groups to increase support for food aid budgets. Members of the coalition include companies involved in the supply chain and logistics, labor, non-governmental organizations, and development industries.
"The diversity of our coalition shows just how important these programs are to our development work overseas," said Danny Murphy, ASA president. "It's not just commodity agriculture that wants these programs protected; it's everyone that has a hand in what has been throughout its history a very successful and impactful foreign aid program."
The groups collaborated on a series of letters to President Obama and to Senate leaders expressing opposition to the plan and citing the positive impacts of both programs both at home and abroad.
"Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping, and transporting nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity here at home, provides support for our U.S. Merchant Marine, essential to our national defense sealift capability, and sustains a robust domestic constituency for these programs not easily replicated in alternative foreign aid programs," wrote the groups. "Overseas, Food for Peace has a strong track record of reducing child malnutrition and increasing incomes and food supplies for very poor and vulnerable populations. Food for Progress expands business and income opportunities along the agriculture value chain and improves the quality and quantity of food supplies. Both of those programs are proven models for addressing global food insecurity."