WASHINGTON D.C. — Foreign aid is most commonly associated with the U.S. House Foreign Affairs and U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committees. However, both the U.S. Senate and House Agriculture Committees also have sizable influence over U.S. international aid.
The House Agriculture Committee possesses jurisdiction over farm bill programs. These programs range from farm subsidies to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to international food aid.
On June 7, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing regarding the future of international food aid and agricultural development. This hearing occurred at an especially tense time, as the current farm bill expires in 2018. A new farm bill is passed only about every five years.
Furthermore, President Trump’s proposed “America First” 2018 budget includes the halting of funding for the McGovern-Dole program, which provides nutritious meals and education opportunities to poor children globally. The budget also cuts the Food for Peace program, which ships American-grown food to impoverished nations.
During the hearing, Committee Chairman K Michael Conway, R-TX, stated that he did not support the president’s position on funding for food security programs. Rep. Conway was adamant that “there should be no shame in using taxpayer dollars to buy American food,” when such food is being sent to people who “literally have nothing else to eat.”
He went on to note that American food aid benefits the American agriculture, manufacturing and maritime industries. He felt that eliminating programs like McGovern-Dole and Food for Peace would go against an “America-first” policy.
In addition, Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and co-chair of the Hunger Caucus, stated his support for investing in global agriculture development in an op-ed piece, describing the investment as a “win-win.” He argued that assisting food insecure nations in becoming prosperous also creates trading partners who will buy American-grown food.
Sen. Moran cited the example of sub-Saharan Africa, where over the past decade the GDP has grown 60 percent with a 90 percent growth in the middle class. Per U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, American agricultural exports to sub-Saharan Africa have increased 20 percent between the years 2009 and 2014.
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman and former House Agriculture Committee Chairman, also wrote about his support for U.S.-backed food security programs in a November 2016 op-ed. He noted that the McGovern-Dole program was created by former Senator Bob Dole, R-KS, and that Food for Peace was originally an idea of a Kansas farmer, Peter O’Brien, in 1953.
The current budget, which does not mirror President Trump’s proposed budget, was passed in May 2017 to avoid a government shutdown. The budget will fund the U.S. federal government for the remainder of 2017. The future of food security programs will continue to be discussed and debated until the 2018 budget is finalized.
– Sean Newhouse