Congress

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Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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Farm bill to preserve America’s self-serving, costly and unfair food aid system | 

Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
Somali men carry food aid from a barge to shore.
AP, 2007

The word from the hollowed halls of Congress is that there’s bipartisan agreement on a new five-year Farm Bill that makes some cuts in food stamp payments and farmer subsidies, outraging both special interests in the agriculture industry along with advocates for the American poor.

Almost totally ignored is the fact that the proposed bill also means millions more of the poor overseas will not get American food aid.

CNN Farm bill ends subsidies, cuts food stamps

NY Times Farm bill compromise will change programs, cut spending

Washington Post Vote expected on farm bill next week

Humanosphere has reported extensively (such as here, here and here) on the U.S. government’s uniquely self-serving, incredibly inefficient and arguably immoral approach to delivering food assistance to the poor or those in a disaster overseas. In sum, we are the only nation to require that most of the food we give to the poor and suffering be grown in America and also be shipped and delivered by Americans.

Many humanitarian groups have supported the Obama Administration’s proposal to at least relax those requirements and allow organizations engaged in famine or disaster relief to buy food closer to the crisis area – getting more barley for the buck and also supporting local economies. That push appears to have faded away into oblivion. Shame. Continue reading

What happens when you send a teacher to Congress? | 

Mark Takano is a former high school teacher who now serves in the US Congress. A letter made its rounds in the House intended for Speaker John Boehner. The curt text says the process of immigration reform is problematic as is the proposed bill itself.

Takno did what he knows best and took out his red pen to help out the authors of the letter with some writing and grammar mistakes. Then he published his corrections to his Tumblr blog.

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What explains the weird way Congress voted down food aid reform? | 

Food Farm Market
Flickr, pinehurst19475

The recent defeat in Congress of legislation aimed at improving the efficiencies of our foreign efforts to feed the hungry didn’t fall into the normal partisan divisions, or even expected special interest categories.

The Obama Administration has proposed changes to our nation’s uniquely wasteful and self-serving system of food aid (which requires we buy only American food and ship only on American-flagged vessels, to be distributed by American humanitarian groups). Experts say we could feed anywhere from 4 to 10 million more hungry people a year for the same amount of money if we just bought some of the food overseas and cut transportation/distribution costs.

But this most reasonable (and arguably, morally superior) proposal is not going anywhere, with bleeding-heart liberals voting against the proposal to improve food aid while red-white-and-blue semi-isolationist conservatives voted for reforming food aid. What the heck is going on?

We’ve tried to dig into an apparent split (since healed?) on this within the humanitarian community, here and here. Below is a map of the way Congress voted on food aid reform. Can somebody explain this wackiness?

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News flash: Many Americans want more money spent on foreign aid, global health | 

Hey President Obama and members of Congress, read this report!

I’ve noted this before but it’s worth re-emphasizing the encouraging (and maybe surprising) findings from a public opinion survey on foreign aid and global health done recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The news media (sigh) largely ignored this but it deserves more attention. Here’s a good summary by Tom Murphy at the Huffington Post and another story (well, reproduced press release actually) by the Sacramento Bee.

In case you don’t want to read the report (it’s pretty good, trust me) due to your own particular form of attention-deficit disorder, here are three graphic illustrations of the findings

First, most Americans don’t know how little we spend on foreign aid.

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The fight over America giving itself foreign aid | 

Flickr, Meredith_Farmer

One of the most inefficient and frequently counterproductive aspects of American foreign aid is our tendency to give aid to ourselves — experts call it “tied aid” — rather than directly giving it to those poor folks and communities overseas we are trying to assist.

Obviously, we don’t say that’s what we’re doing.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, has long been criticized in development circles for this tendency we have to give foreign aid to ourselves. Lately, under Rajiv Shah, the agency appears to have been making a serious effort to reduce this bad habit — untying aid — by allowing USAID to directly fund local organizations in the countries we are trying to help.

As The Guardian reported in February USAID Now Free to Buy Goods in Developing Countries

The US agency for international development, USAid, will no longer have to “buy American”, thanks to a policy change that will open up the agency’s contracts to firms in developing countries and could herald a significant shift in how the world’s largest aid donor does business.

Well, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

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Oxfam and ONE Campaign call on Congress to stop playing games over hunger | 

United Nations photo

Malnourished child in Somalia

Congress is looking at reforming its agricultural subsidies programs known generally as the Farm Bill — a massive, kitchen-sink piece of legislation that covers all sorts of things like food stamps, soil conservation and about $5 billion in direct payments to American farmers.

Given our nation’s cost crunch, many are predicting some big cuts. Humanitarian groups like Oxfam and the ONE Campaign are trying to raise public awareness to save the US government’s life-saving, overseas food aid program from the budget ax.

ONE’s food aid advocacy initiative is called Thrive. They also have this page explaining their position on these issues.  Oxfam calls its food aid initiative Grow and here’s their argument for sustaining overseas food aid. Both organizations are largely advocating for the same thing — continuing to provide the world’s hungry with immediate food aid and also working toward lasting solutions to end these chronic cycles of hunger and starvation.

Oxfam, always creative and often edgy in their approach, today released this weird, creepy but somehow compelling video calling on Congress to stop playing with food aid (… the soundtrack reminds me of The Shining):

Most Americans favor foreign aid, so Congress looking to cut it? | 

The foreign aid discussion in Washington, D.C., seems like another good example of how disconnected Congress is from the thoughts and opinions of most Americans.

According to this survey published by MarketWatch, 72 percent of Americans think providing foreign aid is in our national interest. Yeah, that’s pretty vague, I agree. But other such surveys have shown pretty much the same thing, that many Americans think we spend loads on foreign aid (it’s actually only about 1 percent) and yet still think it’s a good idea.

Nevertheless, Congress is looking to make cuts in the foreign aid budget. As the New York Times reports, the Foreign Aid Budget is Set to Take a Hit:

The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

Why the disconnect? Maybe because politicians know that cuts in foreign aid only hurt those overseas, and so have less chance of hurting them politically here at home.