Seafarers going to bat for Food for Peace program

For more than six decades, surplus U.S. farm produce has been exported abroad in one of the nation’s most-successful foreign aid programs, Food for Peace. But the GOP Trump administration is the second consecutive administration that is trying to kill it via conversion to cash – and the Seafarers are sticking up for the exports, instead.

That’s because the food, shipped on U.S.-flagged ships, with U.S. crews, meeting U.S. ship safety and crew protection standards, are a substantial section of the freight the U.S. merchant marine carries.

That hasn’t stopped congressional Republicans, and now GOP President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, from trying to cut the program’s costs. They want to do so by using Food for Peace money to buy food in home countries, not to buy U.S. food here and ship it there in burlap bags labeled “From the American People.”

That runs counter to the program’s point – and to its positive aspect for U.S. foreign policy, says Seafarers President Michael Sacco. The burlap bags of food, he said in Seafarers Log, “can only help the image of the U.S. as a beacon of hope and freedom.”

Since it began in 1954, Food for Peace “has fed more than three billion people in more than 100 countries,” he added.

 

“The food is grown by American farmers. It is moved by American transportation workers via truck, rail and/or barges to American ports where dock workers load it onto American ships.”  Some 45,000 U.S. dockworkers handle the Food for Peace shipments, he noted.

That’s not the way an Obama administration nominee to head Food for Peace saw it, and that’s not the way President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget sees it, either.

In its budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the Trump administration wants to restrict Food for Peace shipments only to cases of disasters. It proposes allotting $410.6 million for that type of food aid – and nothing for the regular Food for Peace program.

“Providing emergency food aid through International Disaster Assistance has been shown to allow more aid. The IDA request will ensure that all food assistance programs are appropriate to local needs and will increase overall effectiveness,” the administration claims.

But Food for Peace has enjoyed backing from U.S.-flag maritime companies and their trade association, along with bipartisan support in the past, especially among lawmakers from farm states. Sacco reports that’s happening again.

“There should be no shame in using taxpayer dollars to buy American food from American farmers to send overseas to those who literally have nothing else to eat — especially when the proposed alternative, providing cash-based assistance, can result in hard-earned taxpayer dollars being misappropriated or going directly to our agricultural competitors,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said in opening a hearing earlier this year on Food for Peace.

“International food aid programs not only contribute jobs in the U.S. agricultural sector, but also create American jobs in the manufacturing and maritime sectors. Eliminating such programs seems contrary to the role they play in a robust ‘America-first’ policy.

“While less drastic than the proposed elimination of these programs, I also fear that continued efforts to chip away at the core of food aid programs, and to increasingly turn them into cash-based assistance programs, will ultimately erode the alliance of domestic agriculture and maritime supporters that have long advocated for” them, Conaway said.

Source: PAI