Washington D.C. – Ranking Member Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, published the following op-ed, “Fixing food aid,” in today’s edition of Politico.

“In the wake of the recent government shutdown, the political ground in Washington, D.C. is about as parched and fallow as I can ever recall. Despite what promises to be a partisan battle over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), I remain hopeful about nurturing at least a few seeds of bipartisanship this week as representatives from the House and Senate begin to negotiate a new farm bill. What brings us together from across the aisle is our commitment to reform an outdated international food aid program, which is neither as effective as our humanitarian impulses demand nor as efficient as our taxpayers expect. As a Democrat, I will be working with Republican colleagues who share my belief that American food aid can help save more lives at a lower cost.”

“Currently, the vast majority of our food aid to developing countries must be bought and shipped from the United States, even when local food is available at a lower price. Buying food and transporting it from the U.S. to a crisis zone costs almost 50 percent more than purchasing grains and cereals locally, which means we are only getting half the value we should for our tax dollars. It also means people may only be getting half the help they need. In addition, the current system takes an astonishing 130 days longer on average to reach hungry people than doing so by buying food locally.”

“When it comes to global hunger, Americans have had the right idea. We want to feed the hungry, and since 1954, the Food for Peace program has fed more than a billion people around the world. However, this program is now in urgent need of modernization. Many things have changed since 1954, but our approach to international food aid isn’t one of them.”

“As the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve traveled all over the world to witness this problem firsthand. In places like Haiti, I’ve seen how the well-intentioned sale of American rice has driven local rice farmers out of business, thus making it harder for Haitians to feed themselves. A new focus on purchasing food locally in the developing world would ensure that more hungry people are fed faster. In addition, buying food from farmers in poor countries would also support local economies, enabling entire countries to pull themselves out of poverty so they won’t need our aid in the future.”

“Much of our non-emergency food aid is delivered through an unnecessarily complex process called monetization: The U.S. government buys domestic agricultural products and donates them to charitable organizations, which sell them in developing countries in order to raise funds for other development projects. The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, found that this circuitous process led to the loss of $219 million in taxpayer money over three years. This is money that could and should be used to save lives.”

“Both Democrats and Republicans believe that we can and will do better. That’s why my Republican colleague, Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), and I proposed the Royce-Engel amendment to the farm bill. This amendment would have allowed up to 45 percent of our food aid dollars to be spent on local sources and limited the inefficient practice of monetization. These changes would have enabled our food aid to reach 4 million more hungry people. While this amendment ultimately did not pass, it earned the unprecedented bipartisan support of 203 members of the House.”

“This growing support makes it clear that comprehensive food aid reform is not a matter of if, but of when. In fact, the farm bill passed in the Senate contains support for a modest, but permanent local purchase program, increased cash flexibility and new accountability measures. These provisions are an important first step in the right direction – a step that we must have the moral and political courage to take. Now, as the House and Senate come together to shape a final version of the farm bill, it is time to finish the journey.”

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Find the original article in Politico here