Last, Best Chance for Food Aid Reform?

March 15, 2018

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) have teamed up with Democratic colleagues Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to introduce new legislation that would reform US international food aid to deliver more help to more people in crisis, faster.

This bipartisan group of lawmakers has championed changes to the inefficient policies associated with US global food assistance for years. But both Corker and Royce have announced they will retire from Congress at the end of the current session. This bill represents their last push to see food aid reform over the finish line, and recent changes in the landscape suggest it might also be their best chance to do so. The American Farm Bureau Federation, which long resisted changes to existing international food assistance programs that require the US government to purchase commodities in the United States and ship them long distances to those in need, recently embraced reform.

The companion reform bills aim to make US food aid more efficient and effective by doing two key things:

  • Giving the US Agency for International Development the flexibility to use cash, vouchers, or locally purchased food when one of those would be faster and more effective in helping hungry people in need

  • Stretching US food aid dollars by eliminating monetization, a slow and costly process whereby the US government provides NGOs with food that they must arrange to ship and then sell in developing countries to raise funds for their programs

Both bills would also preserve 25 percent of food aid for purchases of US commodities. Senators Corker and Coons estimate that reform could save $300 million that could be used to help feed an additional nine million more people.

As noted in the press release from the Corker and Coons offices, food aid is just 0.2 percent of total US agricultural production, so reducing the share of food aid that is purchased domestically would have a trivial effect on demand and no effect on prices. Recognizing that reality, the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Zippy Duvall, recently joined Senators Corker and Coons in an op-ed that called for modernization of food aid programs in the farm bill that Congress must pass this year.

The US shipping lobby—which benefits from requirements that at least half of US-sourced food aid must be transported on US-flagged ships—remains a stalwart opponent of sensible reform. But it’s the House and Senate Agriculture Committees that will draft the new farm bill. And with the Farm Bureau on board, this may be the last, best chance for long-time reform champions to ensure US international food aid reaches more of the people who need it most.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.

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