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The U.S. International Food Aid Program

The PL 480 Title II Food for Peace Program is the longest running and largest U.S. government international assistance program. In the past few years, the U.S. government has allowed the number of countries covered by the program to shrink as other priorities vie for the federal budget. Figured in inflation-adjusted dollars, the United States committed more than $8 billion to PL 480 in the 1960s.

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Despite increased needs, estimated at more than $2 billion per year, recent Administration budgets for Title II have been only about $1.2 billion. At the same time, while the U.S. government has sought to provide resources for emergencies, it has done so at the expense of addressing the chronic hunger and poverty that make these crises so serious. The funding outlook for the near-term future is not better. Catholic Relief Services is deeply concerned that the current budget is only half of what is required.

How CRS Uses U.S. Food Aid

U.S. food aid is an integral part of CRS long-term development programs in 25 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Currently, more than 3.5 million people receive food aid through these programs:

  • In India, food is provided to tribal and lower caste poor as an incentive to employ soil and water conservation methods on their marginal farmlands. This program resulted in an average of 100 percent increase in yields per acre and a more than one meter rise in the water table.
  • CRS food assisted health programs reached 600,000 households in Guatemala, Kenya, Ethiopia, India, Ghana and Benin between 2000 and 2003. These programs achieved a 60 percent increase in the vaccination rate in six of seven countries. Five countries registered an 86 percent or higher increase in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding. Overall, malnutrition rates dropped and doctors' visits increased.
  • Food for Education programs in Ghana resulted in a 66 percent increase in girls' attendance. In Burkina Faso overall attendance rose 42 percent and girls' graduation rates increased 86 percent between 1999 and 2003. These programs reached over one million students and are credited with increased enrollment and reduced drop out rates.

CRS uses food aid to address locally identified needs when it can be obtained and distributed in an efficient, timely and effective manner without distorting local markets or production.

CRS distributes food aid directly to beneficiaries and monetizes a portion of its food aid to generate cash to carry out related food security programs:

  • Emergency food aid programs include responding to the nutritional needs of people who are suffering from natural disasters, wars or famine.
  • Non-emergency food aid programs use food as a long-term development tool to support education, agriculture and health, and to mitigate or reduce risks to poor, disaster-prone communities. CRS uses multi-year development programs to address the root causes of food insecurity.

In almost all instances, CRS-sponsored food aid programs are carried out through networks of Catholic, faith-based, secular and governmental counterparts and partners overseas. CRS works to ensure that food aid is used to promote and preserve the physical welfare and economic development of the people we serve. Essential to that work are:

  • Long-term food security programs;
  • Support (or "safety net programs") for extremely vulnerable individuals who are unable to meet the most basic needs for survival and human dignity; and
  • A flexible set of mechanisms for rapid response to emergencies as well as assurance of sufficient cash in addition to timely provision of commodities.

Diminishing Negative Impact on Local Markets

CRS seeks private and public funds to purchase appropriate food aid and to carry out local purchases in such a manner that they promote and improve individual, household and community food security among the producers and the recipients of food aid.

CRS recognizes that selling commodities, also referred to as monetization, is an inefficient method of obtaining funding. CRS sells commodities only when it has determined that there are no alternative methods of funding and that the sale of the commodities will have no negative impacts on local markets and local production. CRS will seek to replace monetization with cash funding to cover program costs.

CRS Policy Position on Food Aid

CRS works with our domestic constituency, the Administration and Congress to ensure that the intent of food aid legislation is not the promotion of U.S. commodities overseas but rather the promotion of food security and the alleviation of hunger.

In order to promote long-term food security, food aid must be complemented by policies and programs that promote access to food by poor and vulnerable people, such as investments in agricultural development aimed at small-scale producers, and trade policies that protect small-scale producers against unfair competition. CRS advocates for legislation and agreements that provide a preferential option for the poor to obtain the food they need to flourish and the access to markets that they need to prosper.

CRS endorses the use of food aid for emergency and development needs as well as to provide social safety nets for the poorest people. Unconditional social safety net programs that feed the poorest of the poor—the sick, the dying and the indigent—are an expression of the American people's compassion. CRS believes food aid—both imported and locally purchased—can be effectively used to meet relief and developmental objectives and can mitigate and prevent the need for some emergency responses.

CRS Polic Position on Food Aid Funding

The Administration and the U.S. Congress must ensure that at least $2 billion is budgeted and appropriated each year for PL 480 Title II programs. In the current situation, the budget for Food for Peace programs will have to be increased substantially—likely at least double the Administration's request of $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2009.

There needs to be the flexibility to use some of these funds for local food purchase. There needs to be adequate funding for program activities that maximize the impact of the food.

Emergency Food Aid

  • Emergency food aid must be available at levels adequate to meet all humanitarian catastrophes.
  • The Administration needs to request additional funding to meet unusual emergency needs beyond the annual emergency food aid budget.
  • Unusual emergency programs need to be funded from additional emergency appropriations that supplement the initial funding approved by Congress.

Development Food Aid

  • Development and unconditional social safety net programs should account for at least 50 percent of the Title II budget, or at least $600 million (whichever is greater). These programs should not be decreased or sacrificed to meet emergency needs.
  • Longer term, multi-year commitments are needed for development food aid to maximize its effectiveness.

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