PORTLAND, Oregon — Oregon’s Democratic senator, Jeff Merkley, has been a part of the United States Senate for more than 10 years. He is well-known for his work on several subcommittees that focus on international development. Sen. Merkley is a majority member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and has been very vocal about improving the situation of less wealthy nations. Sen. Merkley’s support for food programs, his work on the Foreign Relations Committee and his fight for important food aid funding show his commitment to global poverty reduction.
The Positive Impact of US Foreign Aid
In 2018, Sen. Merkley went on a trip to four east and central African countries, including South Sudan and Somalia. These countries suffer from famines or famine-like conditions. The purpose of his trip was to learn more about the dire lack of food that was threatening the lives of more than 20 million people. During his trip, Sen. Merkley met with more than 30 government officials, refugees and other groups of people. He learned about people’s suffering and how countries like Kenya, Somalia and Congo are working hard to constantly improve their living conditions. Sen. Merkley further witnessed the positive impacts of food aid from the U.S. on the different countries and called for more action to support their economic development and save the lives of people threatened by famines.
Sen. Merkley’s Support of Food Aid Programs
Sen. Merkley strongly believes that the U.S. has the means to end famines in less wealthy nations. He has avidly supported food aid programs like the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) as well as the USAID-sponsored Food for Peace (FFP) program. The Senator is determined to keep fighting for this cause. Over roughly 50 years of its existence, the FPP has reached approximately three billion people worldwide and has provided food and other commodities for those in need. Sen. Merkley’s home state of Oregon has also contributed significantly to the work of the two food programs. During just a two-week period in 2018, for example, the FFP bought 176,000 tons of wheat from Oregon farmers. The WFP then distributed the wheat to Yemen, where war had caused extreme food insecurity for 18 million people.
Food Programs as a Focus
Sen. Merkley is very vocal about his stance on global hunger and the U.S. contribution to positive changes and development. He has repeatedly advocated increasing the budget to provide food assistance to those in need and has held several Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on food aid. In his hearings, Sen. Merkley mainly focuses on how food insecurity in some countries can cause worldwide instability. He connects the lack of food to the emergence of protests or violent movements. These outbreaks of violence often result in other countries and regions being overwhelmed with refugees, or in general, conflicts that impact the global community. Through his hearings, Sen. Merkley calls for an increase in food aid that would benefit those in need and be in the best interest of the U.S. as well.
Fighting for Foreign Aid Funding
Above everything else, Sen. Merkley has been an active defender of foreign aid funding. In 2018, for example, when Donald Trump attempted to cut the budget for both the FFP and the International Disaster Assistance Program (IDA), Sen. Merkley presented a speech before several subcommittees of the Foreign Relations Committee. Since the IDA is an important partner of the WFP, Merkley once again emphasized the importance of fighting food instability and even went as far as calling food aid one of the most significant issues the U.S. should prioritize. Sen. Merkley did not only succeed at helping to save the IDA funding, but he also got together with Republican senator, Todd Young, to call for an increase in the budget. The bipartisan team succeeded and contributed to raising 2018 funding for the IDA by 17%.
Ultimately, Sen. Merkley’s support for food programs has contributed to the significance of food aid in foreign relations work. Since foreign aid is mostly targeted at saving lives and economic growth of less wealthy nations, emphasizing the role of food programs to build self-sustainable communities and prevent starvation has been an important factor in improving foreign aid.
– Bianca Adelman