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.”
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.
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 →
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.
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?
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.
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.
And we don’t say U.S. businesses are exploiting weak nations for cheap labor, to remove resources and capture market turf; We say our entrepreneurs are there giving guidance and building new infrastructure to help emerging economies.
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.
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.
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):
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.