Predictable: No, lawmakers cannot manage to effectively reform food aid in one fell swoop

posted at 1:21 pm on May 28, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

I’ve been keeping a weather eye on the Obama administration’s recent resurrection of the very practical attempt to reform the United States’ food-aid programs from the current system that mostly requires the government to buy up food from American producers, and then ship it abroad to poor and/or disaster-stricken zones, to the more efficient method of instead using that money to buy food from wherever it can be most cheaply purchased and distributed, which often means from regions immediately neighboring the aforementioned areas. American agribusiness and the relevant special interests, as you might imagine, are rather fond of the way the system functions now — i.e., yet another longstanding, sweet government subsidy for the agricultural sector — but the $1.4 billion program is a contributor to damaging price volatility in these impoverished regions, and there is plenty of waste that goes on that could instead be effectively transformed into more food aid for those in need.

The very narrow but powerful special interests that would rather keep the cash flowing to themselves have been putting up the highly predictable fight vis–à–vis their impressive lobbying prowess, making sure that their Congresspeople both Republican and Democratic know what’s up. Via Roll Call:

Lawmakers and officials with the U.S. Agency for International Development are now in negotiations on a smaller package of changes that supporters of the overhaul hope could pave the way for incremental updates to the system of food aid delivery.

The administration’s proposal, which would have loosened requirements on how much of the food the United States sends to hungry people around the world has to come from U.S. farmers on U.S. ships, “is just way too far, way too aggressive,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Agriculture and Appropriations committees. It “never had much of a chance.” …

Despite Obama’s efforts, those on both sides of the debate now say that the food assistance programs will stay under the Agriculture committees. That was affirmed in the House and Senate farm bills (HR 1947, S 954) that are currently making their way through both chambers, and echoed by senators on both the Agriculture and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittees. …

According to Johanns, there are a “number of vehicles” under consideration on that front. One possibility, he said, is to increase by some smaller percentage the amount of money allowed to be spent on emergency food aid overseas, although it would be well less than the 45 percent that was the maximum amount allowed in the White House request.

This is the egregious state of our bureaucracy, friends: That reforming the food-aid program, merely to allow food to be locally sourced for the benefit of the program’s ostensibly intended poor and hungry recipients in foreign countries, so that barely half a billion dollars will be relieved of its guaranteed placement into the pockets of a small handful of America’s already large and well-to-do agribusinesses, is “too aggressive” to accomplish in one clean push. Instead, it’s getting turned into an even more convoluted and confusing program with more federal rulemaking from on high in the pipeline. Typical.


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Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

The kenyan constitution authorizes all of the items this regime has done in the past 5 years.

acyl72 on May 28, 2013 at 1:28 PM

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

+1000

dominigan on May 28, 2013 at 1:30 PM

What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

None, whatsover. But our government don’t let that archaic, irrelevant and racist document stop them from redistributing our wealth and resources to whom it deems deserving around the world.

hawkeye54 on May 28, 2013 at 1:31 PM

Read this and get ready

Schadenfreude on May 28, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Wasn’t the Founding Fathers’ rebellion against Great Britain “too aggressive” to accomplish in one clean push?

Oh, wait!

ShainS on May 28, 2013 at 1:34 PM

I think you miss the point of this program completely. This was *never* intended to feed the needy; the only reason this program ever existed was because it’s a great way to shovel buckets of cash to big campaign donors while pretending that you’re doing something good to the suckers out there, ie, those sad chumps called “voters”.

Once you accept that *everything* you have ever been told by “Your” government is a lie, then the rest is easy.

Tom Servo on May 28, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

Exactly. Anyone remember the Star Trek non-interferrence directive?

aniptofar on May 28, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Johanns has always loved big ag. He managed to stop a successful ICE sting on meatpackers in NE when he was governor. They were catching hundreds of illegals. He stopped it and got the ICE officials, who were involved, moved and retired. Illegals returned, packing houses got their cheap labor back, and dubya selected Mike as his next Sec of Ag. See how that works?

a capella on May 28, 2013 at 1:37 PM

They probably won’t accept the GMO foods from here anyway.

Corsair on May 28, 2013 at 1:38 PM

I think you miss the point of this program completely. This was *never* intended to feed the needy; the only reason this program ever existed was because it’s a great way to shovel buckets of cash to big campaign donors while pretending that you’re doing something good to the suckers out there, ie, those sad chumps called “voters”.

Once you accept that *everything* you have ever been told by “Your” government is a lie, then the rest is easy.

Tom Servo on May 28, 2013 at 1:36 PM

This…

This has nothing to do with feeding anyone. This is about funneling tax payer money to one lobby (big farm in this case) and then having that money funneled back (after a large percentage is taken off the top by the lobby) to which ever political party sucks up the most to that lobby.

Sort of like money laundering…just that in this case it is misuse of tax payer money.

William Eaton on May 28, 2013 at 1:44 PM

the current system that mostly requires the government to buy up food from American producers, and then ship it abroad to poor and/or disaster-stricken zones

How about this for reform:

End all benefits under SNAP (food stamps) and distribute that food directly to the parasites in this country. They can line up in the parking lot of the local post office on a given day and get their allotment of cheese or wheat or whatever.

Happy Nomad on May 28, 2013 at 1:49 PM

Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Your implication is correct.

However, the sad fact remains that hundreds of millions are desperately without sufficient resources (food, clean water, simple medicines & vaccines).

If governments don’t help, will individuals step up?

In a perfect world,
–the feds would obey the Constitution,
–the wealthy (you & me) would give to organizations that effectively help the most needy, &
–the needy would eventually become self-sustaining.

But we live in a corrupted world.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Good and plenty clause.

Also, its a tax, so you know, constitutional and all that…

Gatsu on May 28, 2013 at 1:57 PM

However, the sad fact remains that hundreds of millions are desperately without sufficient resources (food, clean water, simple medicines & vaccines).

If governments don’t help, will individuals step up?

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Can’t fix it by throwing food at the problem. Black Hawk Down was on the TV last night as a reminder.

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 1:59 PM

“Good and plenty clause.”

LOL! that’s backed up by the “Bend over and take it like a man!!!” clause, as interpreted by the “Thank you Sir! May I have another?” amendment.

Tom Servo on May 28, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Another failed program that needs to be deep-sixed.
It couldn’t be any worse if they out-sourced it to Carnival and/or Royal Carribean cruise lines.

Another Drew on May 28, 2013 at 2:05 PM

OT but related.

Just heard the rat-eared coward make some comment about it taking years to recover from a storm like the one that took out all those rich people’s vacation homes in New Jersey. Well wasn’t this the same lazy bastard that was out there saying that GWB didn’t move quick enough in getting the welfare culture re-established in New Orleans after Katrina?

The fact of the matter is that government can move swiftly or they can be more efficient but there is no such thing as a swiftly established government program that isn’t full of waste. Same holds true of swift reform be it Obamacre (a trainwreck) or immigration (which is nothing but a scheme to hand out amnesty to the illegals) or this food giveaway.

Happy Nomad on May 28, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Can’t fix it by throwing food at the problem. Black Hawk Down was on the TV last night as a reminder.

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Food wasn’t the issue it was the corruption and complete collapse of government control.

Happy Nomad on May 28, 2013 at 2:09 PM

The goal of the US government program is to try to feed the starving.

Most of the governments around the world are NOT interested in this goal. Hence, you have stockpiles on one side of a border and starving people on the other. In some cases, the starving people’s systems of government are so corrupt that they cause the starvation.

Sending cash to ANY those governments in order to feed the starving can never help. In fact, in many cases, sending food does little to help.

As cold as it may sound, the only acceptable change to this program is it’s elimination. Buying from a 3rd party, or sending cash will be even less effective and absolutely unaccountable by anyone in the government.

Freddy on May 28, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

Your implication is correct.

However, the sad fact remains that hundreds of millions are desperately without sufficient resources (food, clean water, simple medicines & vaccines).

If governments don’t help, will individuals step up?

In a perfect world,
–the feds would obey the Constitution,
–the wealthy (you & me) would give to organizations that effectively help the most needy, &
–the needy would eventually become self-sustaining.

But we live in a corrupted world.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 1:54 PM

Can’t fix it by throwing food at the problem. Black Hawk Down was on the TV last night as a reminder.

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Depends on what you mean by “fix it.”
Relief is aid in recovery from disasters. Sometimes you have to throw food at the problem.
But long-term development is different. Notice I wrote that folks ought to “give to organizations that effectively help the most needy.” Equipping the needy to develop their own resources is always better than eternally throwing food at the problem.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Remind me: What part of our Constitution authorizes Congress to appropriate money to feed the citizens of other nations?

JohnGalt23 on May 28, 2013 at 1:24 PM

…the same one that lets us pay for their lodging?

KOOLAID2 on May 28, 2013 at 2:19 PM

To a certain extent this makes sense. I have a relative who does not spend money wisely and often asks for assistance to pay medical bills or to purchase household items. They always request cash or a check. I instead offer to purchase the items for them. This is typically when they refuse the offer because they wanted the money to spend on something else entirely.

I don’t know that we could trust foreign businesses and governments to handle food transactions without a healthy level of fraud.

I am all in favor of us getting out of feeding the world, but if we are going to provide food to these countries, this seems like the least bad option at preventing fraud and abuse with the program abroad.

weaselyone on May 28, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Depends on what you mean by “fix it.”
Relief is aid in recovery from disasters. Sometimes you have to throw food at the problem.
But long-term development is different. Notice I wrote that folks ought to “give to organizations that effectively help the most needy.” Equipping the needy to develop their own resources is always better than eternally throwing food at the problem.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Interesting point. Perhaps in the name of long-term development, the US should phase out providing the food entirely.

Another thought would be to send them seed instead. This way they are forced into learning how to provide for themselves with assistance. Slowly over time we could phase out providing the seed for free.

weaselyone on May 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM

“Predictable: No, lawmakers cannot manage to effectively reform food aid in one fell swoop”
…yeah, food aid is CLEARLY not as easy to do as HEATHCARE (one-sixth of the US economy) and ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION (the ultimate destruction of the country).

TeaPartyNation on May 28, 2013 at 3:04 PM

So Erika, you’d rather that we redistribute the money directly to the foreign nations, and bypass the US farmer?

So, another earthquake rocks Haiti, and we set out to establish surplus food sources and shipping companies in the Dominican Republic? And if they don’t have an abundance of extra food, then we turn to another small Caribbean nation? We’d spend more time, money and resources trying to locate and negotiate for those items, than just purchasing from established US sources.

Do the US farmers benefit from this arrangement? Yes, but if we were to adopt what you’re suggesting – then we’re simply redistributing the wealth to other nations, via the food-aid program.

Hill60 on May 28, 2013 at 3:26 PM

This is the egregious state of our bureaucracy, friends: That reforming continuing the food-aid program, merely to allow food to be locally sourced for the benefit of the program’s ostensibly liberals to feel good about “helping” the intended poor and hungry recipients in foreign countries….

FIFY, Erika. We shouldn’t be doing this at all. Not the government, anyway. It is not a virtue to practice ‘compassion’ with other people’s money!

GWB on May 28, 2013 at 3:27 PM

Depends on what you mean by “fix it.”
Relief is aid in recovery from disasters. Sometimes you have to throw food at the problem.
But long-term development is different. Notice I wrote that folks ought to “give to organizations that effectively help the most needy.” Equipping the needy to develop their own resources is always better than eternally throwing food at the problem.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Interesting point. Perhaps in the name of long-term development, the US should phase out providing the food entirely.

Another thought would be to send them seed instead. This way they are forced into learning how to provide for themselves with assistance. Slowly over time we could phase out providing the seed for free.

weaselyone on May 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM

I promise you, it’s almost always more complicated than that.
Please surf around this website:
http://chenetwork.org/
It’s a Christian organization (I think most NGO charities are), but they do far more good than only spreading the gospel.
BTW, I must assure you that CHE has nothing to do with the commie thug pictured on t-shirts in Hollywood. It stands for Community Health Evangelism. :)

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM

this seems like the least bad option at preventing fraud and abuse with the program abroad.

weaselyone on May 28, 2013 at 2:41 PM

Yes, because it’s much better to keep that fraud and abuse right here at home! ;)

Another thought would be to send them seed instead.

weaselyone on May 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM

Except that a lot of these folks live where sending them seed wouldn’t help any. As Sam Kinison said, send them UHauls, instead. They’re starving because they live in a frickin’ desert!

GWB on May 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Except that a lot of these folks live where sending them seed wouldn’t help any. As Sam Kinison said, send them UHauls, instead. They’re starving because they live in a frickin’ desert!

GWB on May 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM

Taking advice from evil people like Kinnison is not wise.

Hundreds of millions are desperately without sufficient resources (food, clean water, simple medicines & vaccines).

You can’t just move everyone.

Want them on your property?

Israel turned a wasteland into productive land.
It can happen in other places, too.

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Food wasn’t the issue it was the corruption and complete collapse of government control.

Happy Nomad on May 28, 2013 at 2:09 PM

We were throwing food at the problem, until Billy Boy decided to do a half-arsed raid. Continuing to throw food at the problem would have never worked, due to the underlying issues with the country and the people of that country.

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 3:47 PM

Except that a lot of these folks live where sending them seed wouldn’t help any. As Sam Kinison said, send them UHauls, instead. They’re starving because they live in a frickin’ desert!

GWB on May 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM

There is a TED video presented by Allan Savory who used to think that they would have to kill a certain number of elephants so that they wouldn’t turn their area into a desert. After decades of doing this and other research, he finally came to the realization that large herd animals actually turn desert areas into fertile growth areas. All the preservation of land by keeping cows from being herded, actually is killing America’s west. So, he put it into place in Mexico and in Africa (Zimbabwea) and the results were amazing. New grasses and trees in a place that was mostly dessert.

Teach them to fish make grain.

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

itsnotaboutme on May 28, 2013 at 3:46 PM

You do realize I didn’t say “move everyone”? And, that I was using Kinison’s comedy as sarcasm? (You think he was evil? Wow.) And, that the main reason a lot of these folks don’t have what they need is because they live in crapholes – some of them are geological crapholes, some are cultural crapholes, and some are political crapholes? And, that no matter what we send them, many will still live in crapholes and not have enough of anything?

LoganSix on May 28, 2013 at 3:59 PM

That’s interesting info. (And, only counter-intuitive to the greenies/leftists.) The fact is, though, that a lot of folks around the world will turn a fertile, lush, food-abundant region into a desert in short order if you simply give them grain and teach them how to plant it. Even if you teach them all kinds of great farming techniques about rotating crops and whatnot. And this will happen because these folks do not have the necessary culture and resultant freedom to go beyond the here-and-now.

I am all for helping the destitute around the world. I just don’t think the government should be doing it. Ever. It is not the government’s place to practice charity.

GWB on May 28, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Erika, tell me how buying surplus food and grain on the open market is a subsidy. No wonder this country is going down the drain. When someone a smart as you thinks that is a subsidy.

Old Country Boy on May 28, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Erika, tell me how buying surplus food and grain on the open market is a subsidy. No wonder this country is going down the drain. When someone a smart as you thinks that is a subsidy.

Old Country Boy on May 28, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Well a subsidy:
A subsidy is a grant or other financial assistance given by one party for the support or development of another.

If the grain is surplus (ie. not being bought), then the government buying that grain is subsidizing the price of grain. If they didn’t buy the grain, then the price would go down. And since the government uses tax dollars to buy the grain….

LoganSix on May 29, 2013 at 8:08 AM

Read this and get ready

Schadenfreude on May 28, 2013 at 1:34 PM

Some pretty accurate prophecies in that one.

AesopFan on May 29, 2013 at 11:44 PM