Bill Falls Short on Other Catholic Priorities
WASHINGTON, DC, February 4, 2014 — In a Senate vote of 68 to 32, Congress gave final approval to the 2014 Farm Bill today, sending it to President Obama’s desk with provisions reauthorizing and improving international food aid programs that were a top priority of Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
“Millions of the poor around the world benefit from these programs,” said Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ Vice President for Government Affairs and Advocacy. “Provisions in this bill will ensure that more of the poor overseas are served. But, along with others in the Catholic community, we are disappointed that the bill does not do a better job serving the poor in the United States.”
The President has indicated that he will sign the bill, which was approved by the House last week. It governs a wide array of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly referred to as food stamps) and support for U.S. farmers.
The Farm Bill reauthorizes the main U.S. international food aid program, Food for Peace, at $2.5 billion a year, matching the current authorized level. It also directs a minimum of $350 million in annual Food for Peace funding to developmental food aid programs that address root causes of hunger in poor communities around the world. In years without major food emergencies, this figure can rise.
“The bill ensures a reliable stream of funding to help smallholder farmers grow more food and be more resilient to droughts, floods and other disasters,” O’Keefe said.
Two measures in the Farm Bill make important reforms in the delivery of international food aid. The first provides substantially more cash funding in the Food for Peace program to pay for developmental food aid programs.
“This reform should help us serve more people at the same cost by reducing the need to monetize food aid commodities,” said O’Keefe, referring to the current method of funding some program costs by selling commodities. “Monetization is a very inefficient method of paying for programs.”
The Farm Bill also establishes a permanent Local and Regional Procurement (LRP) program that will allow groups like CRS to purchase and distribute surplus food from farmers near areas of food shortage. Studies have shown that food purchased close to where it is needed is often less expensive and gets to where it is needed faster.
“We are quite thrilled about the LRP program in the Farm Bill,” O’Keefe said. “Local purchase can help jump start the economy in poor countries, providing a real development benefit.”
The Farm Bill also includes provisions that will allow better monitoring of the costs associated with the delivery of food aid, maintains funding for testing food aid products and increases funding to store commodities for emergency relief programs in more places around the world.
“Three years of work on the Farm Bill have qualitatively improved our nation’s response to hunger abroad,” O’Keefe said, “The reforms to international food aid show Congress can be both compassionate and responsible with our tax dollars. Our regret is that Congress couldn’t find a comparable way to improve the situation for the poor in our own country.”
To read more about the overall Catholic response to the Farm Bill, see the joint Catholic press release on the Farm Bill.
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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in 91 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. For more information, please visit crs.org or crsespanol.org.