Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Politics of Hunger

June 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Port Services & Renewables

It’s time to speak up in support of Food for Peace – and the American Merchant Marine.

Since 1954 the Food for Peace program (PL-480) has been a pillar of American generosity around the world, feeding more than a billion people. But today the $1.4 billion program is in deep trouble as it becomes a budgetary target. Five years ago Food for Peace had a budget of $2.3 billion, so almost one billion dollars has been removed from the program since the Obama Administration took office.

Now the White House wants to further reform the program by turning it into a pure cash-voucher system, which would allow NGOs to purchase food in foreign local and regional markets. The Senate just revised its Farm Bill by moving $20 million from Food for Peace into the USDA’s LRP (local and regional procurement) program. The House Agriculture Subcommittee has proposed reducing the Food for Peace budget from $1.4 billion to $1.1 billion. And HR 1983, proposed by Representatives Royce and Bass of California, is still alive in the House and intends to eliminate food aid as we now know it.

In a convoluted and misinformed statement before Congress, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah said that American farmers and the U.S. Merchant Marine are responsible for starving Somali children dying from severe malnutrition. Shah testified that, “The existing inefficiencies of PL-480 are inexcusable in this nation’s ability to accomplish something as profound as feeding the children of Somalia.”

To infer that American mariners and farmers are the reason children are dying of starvation in Somalia is an inexcusable statement by the head of USAID. The fact is Somalia has not had a government since 1991. The Somalian people have endured two decades of war and anarchy and numerous droughts and floods. It is a dangerous country where warlords kill and capture hundreds of aid workers and missionaries.

The warlords send thousands of pirates into the Gulf of Aden to attack commercial ships, and hundreds of seafarers have remained in captivity for years. U.S. food aid ships have been attacked by Somali pirates, and American seamen’s lives have been endangered. Dr. Shah should be reminded of the capture of the Maersk Alabama and the heroic Captain Richard Phillips, who gave himself up as a prisoner to the Somali pirates rather than allow his crew to be in harm’s way. The pirates were eventually killed by an elite team of Navy SEALs, and Phillips was rescued and has since become a national hero.

Food Aid “Transparency”

There are many inefficiencies in food aid programs implemented by USAID and USDA. Last December the GAO released a report about overlapping projects managed by these two agencies in numerous countries. The report indicated that 11 of 34 countries receiving food aid had similar programs, many of which served the same geographical areas, activities and implementing partners, and that there were duplicate programs in Guatemala and Uganda.

Since 2008, food aid funding for USAID and USDA has risen 11% to about $3 billion. But Food for Peace funding has decreased by nearly $1 billion in the same time period. USAID and USDA’s primary program implementers are NGOs, and it is no secret that many NGO infrastructures rival “for-profit corporations” in terms of offices, employees, and executive salaries. In 2011, according to a recent report, the top 20 NGOs working for USAID had more than $5.1 billion in obligated funding from the agency on their books, and there are literally hundreds of NGOs working for USAID and USDA around the world.

In 2011, FHI 360 was #1 with obligated spending grants of $804 million. Of $474 million in total revenues that year, FHI 360 got $403 million from the U.S. government and spent $62 million on salaries and general administrative costs. It has 60 offices worldwide and 4,400 employees.

The Long Road from Eden

The current drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan will have a huge financial impact on the U.S. Merchant Marine’s fleet and mariners. But the Obama Administration has been raiding MARAD and Food for Peace budgets since it entered office in 2008. The facts are, since the 1970s, the U.S. has lost over 300 shipyards and 70% of its U.S.-flagged deepwater fleet. Today, America’s deepwater fleet transports only 1.5% of cargoes to and from the United States.

The deepwater sector is still reeling from last year’s midnight OMB caucus, which reduced cargo preference for food aid from 75% to 50% without warning. The White House has never explained why it reduced U.S.-flagged participation in food aid by $35 million in the middle of the night. Yet the President continues to go about his business of trying to eliminate U.S. farmers and mariners from participation in Food for Peace altogether.

Last year he announced a six-year, $495 billion transportation infrastructure plan for planes, trucks and trains, but there was no mention of providing monies for the maritime sector. On May 21, DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari went before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and made it clear the Administration has no cohesive plan to support the U.S. Merchant Marine or Jones Act sector, including shipbuilding.

Porcari evaded questions about numerous Jones Act waivers, saying the President has only provided waivers in national emergencies such as the SPR drawdown or when Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern United States. If the ‘balloon’ went up today, the United States would need 17,000 licensed and unlicensed mariners to meet full-operation status. But there are only 12,000 mariners available in the pool, and for some reason the Maritime Administration refuses to post this information on its website. Since 2010, the U.S. deepwater sector has lost 54 ships and nearly 3,000 seafarer jobs.

In 2010, food aid transportation cost about $350 million, of which U.S. flags moved close to $140 million. Last year’s OMB ‘midnight raid’ reduced U.S. participation by $35 million. The Administration seems willing to accept that 55% of the $1.4 billion Food for Peace budget remain in its static state, which would leave $770 million in the program, including $192.5 million for transportation and about $96.2 for U.S. flags.

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