‘Time Has Come For Some Fresh Thinking’ On U.S. Food Aid Program

“Among the more laudable ideas in President Obama’s budget for fiscal 2014 is a plan to modernize and reform the $1.5 billion U.S. food aid program,” a Washington Post editorial states. Noting some of the proposed changes, the editorial writes, “Obama’s plan has run into political opposition on Capitol Hill” as “[m]embers of Congress from both parties have objected, citing the potential losses for U.S. farmers, ports, ships and merchant seamen.”  The newspaper notes, “On April 5, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to the president arguing that his plan ‘would significantly reduce the amount of U.S. farm products our nation could provide to those in need around the world. It would also threaten our national security preparedness by reducing the domestic sealift capacity on which our U.S. military depends.'” Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a signatory to the letter “said that Mr. Obama’s plan would make sense in ‘an ideal world,’ but that political realities are such that foreign aid cannot get funding unless domestic U.S. constituencies also benefit,” the editorial continues.

The “rationale is a familiar one — indeed, it was part of the Eisenhower administration’s original argument for food aid,” the newspaper writes, adding, “But poor people abroad have been hostage to interest-group politics in the U.S. long enough.” The editorial continues, “The time has come for some fresh thinking of the sort Rajiv Shah, Mr. Obama’s foreign aid administrator, is trying to introduce,” adding, “Among the many points Mr. Shah makes are that food aid shipments have declined by 64 percent in the last decade anyway, so it’s a bit late for farmers and merchant mariners to be claiming that they can’t survive without them.” The newspaper concludes, “Perhaps it’s true that funding for foreign aid, always politically tenuous, has depended on greasing interest groups. But it’s also true that foreign aid depends on persuading taxpayers in general that their funds are being well spent. And there are more taxpayers than special interests” (5/12).

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