Food Aid Reform

Most aid organizations will be happy with Obama’s proposed changes to food aid policy, which would stop sending American food overseas either as direct aid or to be monetized and distributed as cash. This has been proposed before, but this time the word “momentum” keeps popping up in news articles. There is an appetite for trimming fat from the budget, and the way the current system is successfully being framed by opponents – “inefficient” – is a damning argument for many lawmakers these days. Also, Obama no longer needs to win an Iowa primary, so the administration has more political space to fight for this. (Though I wouldn’t expect Biden to get within a mile of this.) All this suggests that this reform has a chance to get through Congress. I hope it does, and I hope that aid organizations will lobby hard for this.

But I have to be skeptical. Three things are going to work against this proposal. First, there is still a large group of lawmakers and interests that will fight against reform. Agricultural and shipping interests that benefit from in-kind food aid have always successfully defeated this proposal in the past, and they must know where their biggest leverage points in government are. They have a lot at stake for themselves.

Second, Obama has many bigger fish to fry. He’s set up another fight with Republicans on revenue, and now a fight with his own party on entitlement reform. His universal preschool proposal was a key feature of the State of the Union and the defense budget will always be a big issue. The administration will focus its political capital on these things, and it may have less to spend on food aid reform.

And finally, weighing in at $1.5 Billion, food aid is a tiny part of the budget. With small savings to be had in changing the program, deficit hawks may be vulnerable to agricultural and shipping lobby groups.

These are the challenges faced by proponents of reform. They have the better argument – dumping US food in emergency situations harms already fragile food markets – and this may be the closest thing they have to a window of opportunity. It’s possible that other agricultural cuts, such as $5 billion direct subsidies to farmers or crop insurance, will take the brunt of the lobbying and food aid reform can sneak through. With the support of aid organizations, ever more conscious of how American policy is affecting the communities abroad they work in, I hope it can.


About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

One Response to Food Aid Reform

  1. Pingback: Senate vote on food aid | developingnathan

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