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Opinion Pieces Address Maritime Aspects Of Proposed Food Aid Program Reforms

The following opinion pieces address food aid program reforms proposed by the Obama administration in its FY 2014 budget request.

  • Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), U.S. News & World Report: “[T]he Obama administration recently proposed restructuring the food aid program as primarily a cash voucher system — effectively handing out cash overseas, not food,” the U.S. Congress members write, adding, “Supporters of this drastic change … are missing important facts about U.S. food aid programs and the U.S. merchant marine.” They continue, “Food aid, carried on U.S.-flag commercial vessels pursuant to cargo preference laws, provides essential cargo for our domestic fleet,” and they note that “merchant mariners and vessels sustained by food aid cargoes have provided 95 percent of the sealift capacity that has supported our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq at a cost dramatically lower than if the Pentagon had to maintain this capacity using wholly government-owned assets and federal employees.” The authors conclude, “Before considering such dramatic alterations to existing food aid programs, we must recognize that there are no viable, lower cost alternatives to replace this vital sealift capacity” and “acknowledge that any such changes would only speed the decline of the U.S.-flag commercial fleet and destroy the livelihoods of the thousands of U.S. seafarers who sail those vessels” (5/21).
  • John Norris, Foreign Policy: Noting “more than half of every dollar spent on U.S. food programs currently goes to shipping and transportation costs rather than lifesaving food,” Norris, executive director of the Sustainable Security program at the Center for American Progress, writes that the maritime industry’s arguments against food aid reform — “that the current food aid system should not be changed because it ‘provides support for our U.S. Merchant Marine’ and is ‘essential to our national defense sealift capability'” — “are perhaps the most risible.” The 1954 law “mandat[ing] that the majority of U.S. food aid commodities be shipped aboard U.S.-flagged vessels … was a reasonable Cold War policy originally meant to ensure that additional ships and their naval crews were available during times of war,” he writes. However, “[t]he Department of Defense has been blunt in saying that it doesn’t need cargo preference to keep a stand-by fleet at the ready,” he says. In addition, “the farce that is ‘American flagging'” means “‘American’ companies can be subsidiaries of foreign corporations,” Norris writes, noting “one of the fiercest advocates against food aid reform has been Danish shipping giant Maesrk” and “[t]he actual number of U.S. maritime jobs affected by reforming food aid would be small.” He concludes, “Congress has all the evidence it needs to do the right thing on food aid. Whether it has sufficient spine is another question entirely” (5/21).