Global Food Security Act advances in Senate

House and Senate will now conference bill, which fixes inefficiencies in U.S. global food assistance.

Both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the Global Food Security Act, which provides the first-ever authorization for President Barack Obama’s Feed the Future program. The bill is designed to fix inefficiencies in U.S. global food assistance but also provides assurances that it won’t overhaul U.S. food aid programs and allows commodities to still be shipped to those in need.

The House passed the first authorization of the Feed the Future program with a 370-33 vote on April 12. The House legislation would authorize the program for only one year, while a similar bill passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would authorize the program for two years.

The Senate passed its version by a voice vote on April 20. The Senate version authorizes $1 billion a year for agricultural development in the Feed the Future initiative called for by Obama in 2010 and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) emergency food assistance program.

Feed the Future, designed to reduce global hunger and increase food security, includes partnerships with university researchers. Beyond requiring collaboration with key agricultural stakeholders, the House bill will also improve monitoring and reporting of the various programs and funds counted towards the success of the current Feed the Future Initiative.

“USAID has been very vocal in its efforts to reduce and or eliminate in-kind food assistance yet lauds the use of these programs in selling the success of Feed the Future,” House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said in a floor speech before House passage. “It is my hope that the enhanced reporting accountability within the Global Food Security Strategy will ensure that all food aid programs and means of delivery are appropriately recognized for their role in the strategy’s success.”

Conaway was also concerned that the program would give USAID the ability to overhaul existing food aid programs. During farm bill discussions and in past presidential budget requests, there have been attempts to increase monetary, rather than direct commodity, aid to regions in need.

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said his bill that passed out of the Senate provides flexibilities for emergency food aid. He said without them, it would be impossible to respond in places like Syria, where U.S. commodities cannot reach.

“The Emergency Food Security Program is the model for overall food aid reform, and I am hopeful that with today’s action, we will continue building momentum behind that effort,” Corker said.

Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said through the Global Food Security Act, the U.S. is leading the way to improve food security and promote long-term nutrition for communities in developing countries. “More flexibility allows us to reach more people at the same cost,” he noted.

In 2015, nearly half of the $2.1 billion in annual U.S. food aid came from USAID’s Emergency Food Security Program. Other non-emergency food assistance is encumbered by various restrictions — including U.S. commodity and cargo preferences — that make emergency food aid too slow, too expensive or locally inappropriate. The Food for Peace Reform Act of 2015, co-authored by Corker and Coons, would eliminate these restraints to free up as much as $440 million annually and allow the U.S. to reach an estimated 8-12 million more people with food in a shorter time period, they argued.

Many members on the agriculture committees want to make sure any major overhauls are done under their approval. In a statement, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the bill does build on reforms made in the farm bill, which made “important reforms and investments to help ensure our food aid programs are providing the right tools and resources to address these issues head on.”

Both bills do contain a "rule of construction" clause that members of the House Agriculture Committee insisted on in order to ensure that the bill wouldn't be a pathway to reforming food aid programs.

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