by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Food aid

Jan 6 2021

Trump’s Covid stimulus bill: how it affects food and nutrition

I’m trying to make sense of the new $900 billion stimulus bill signed by President Trump a week or so ago.  This is not easy to do; it’s 5500 pages of government-speak.

The bill has $26 billion for food and nutrition, of which half goes to Big Ag (sigh) and the other half to food assistance (good, but not enough).

Why the sigh for farm aid?  Here’s what the accounting looks like:

Big Agriculture: $13 billion on top of what else it got in 2020

  • $32 billion from the initial CARES Act
  • $4 billion as compensation for the trade war with China
  • $16 billion from the normal Farm Bill subsidies
  • $13 billion from the new stimulus package ($1.5 billion is for buying food products, including seafood)

Small Ag:  $225 million (not billion) for growers of specialty crops like fruits, nuts and vegetables.

SNAP: a 15% expansion through June 2021.  This will mean a lot to recipients, but it’s still not enough.

SNAP Fruit and vegetable incentives: $75 million (not billion) for the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program,

Pandemic-EBT: this authorizes extra benefits for families who have kids normally getting subsidized school meals (but this has been delayed)

Food banks: $400 million (not billion) for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, $400 million (not billion) for milk,

Disadvantaged, veteran, and beginning farmers: $75 million (not billion)

International Food Assistance: $1.74 billion for Food for Peace grants and $230 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program (note that this is the most the US has ever spent for these programs.

Pet foods: By congressional directive:

FDA is directed to provide an update on the investigation it is undertaking regarding canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and the manner in which it has released information to the public. The update shall include: the case definition FDA uses to include or exclude cases and the scientific work ongoing at the agency and with collaborating partners for identifying a causation of DCM; how FDA distinguishes cases of DCM due to genetic predisposition in certain breeds; how the agency plans to work with pet food companies and the veterinary cardiology community during the investigation; and the timing and nature of any future public reporting.

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl) chemicals in food packaging: “directs FDA to review any new scientific information pertaining to PF AS chemicals and determine whether food packaging continues to meet the safety standards of a reasonable certainty of no harm under intended conditions of use.”

Restaurants: they get whatever they can out of the $284 billion Paycheck Protection Program.  The trade association for independent restaurants points out that this is nowhere near enough.  Even the Wall Street Journal says restaurants need help; their situation is bleak.

Business lunches: the full cost can now be deducted as a business expense, but nobody expects this to help restaurants much.

There is undoubtedly more, but that’s enough for now.

Politico has done a great job of covering these provisions, but is behind a paywall.  The Counter also has an especially good summary..

Jul 2 2013

Question: What is the U.S. doing to help address world hunger?

Answer: plenty or not enough, depending on how you look at it.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has just released a report summarizing the present status of its activities: Feed the Future — Progress Report: Growing Innovation, Harvesting Results.

It also has released a scorecard for holding the agency accountable for what it does: Feed the Future — Progress Scorecard.

The report is written in government-speak and it’s hard to know what to make of it.

The government has met some of its promises, but not all.  One reason for the “not all” may be that only one-third of the nearly $4 billion pledged for reducing world hunger has actually been spent.

It’s not a coincidence that USAID released the report while President Obama is visiting countries in Africa, and while legislators are trying to figure out what to do about the fallout from not passing the farm bill.  The farm bill includes food aid programs.

Food aid, as I have discussed previously, is tied to domestic farm policy in a particularly inconvenient way: American surplus farm commodities have to be shipped on American carriers, something that takes time and benefits American producers and shippers perhaps more than it does recipient countries.

Can this situation be changed to increase the benefit to international partners?  Not likely with this Congress.

 

 

Tags:
Apr 11 2013

Food aid reform is up against intense lobbying

International food aid has long been fraught with politics.

Since 1954, our system for donating food for emergencies and aid has worked like this:

  • The government buys U.S. farm commodities.
  • It requires at least 75% of these commodities to be transported on U.S. ships.
  • The commodities are given to governments for emergency relief, or
  • They are given to American charitable organizations to sell so the groups can use the money to finance development projects (this is called “monetization”).

Other countries that donate food buy it internationally so it doesn’t have to be shipped long distances.

The U.S. is the only major donor country that uses food aid to benefit U.S. farmers, U.S. shipping companies, and U.S. charitable groups, and does not buy food aid internationally.

This system has long been known to undermine local agriculture and food systems, and to fail to get to those who need it most.   It takes months to get food aid where it is needed, and the entire enterprise is inefficient and unnecessarily expensive, according to a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

Now, says the New York Times, the Obama administration wants to fix these longstanding problems.

The Agency for International Development (USAID) wants the U.S. to:

  • Buy food in local countries (although 55% would still go to U.S. farmers)
  • End “monetization” to U.S. charitable organizations.

The mere suggestion of reform has elicited intense lobbying by—surprise!—shipping companies, agricultural trade organizations, and some, but by no means all, charitable groups.

Some aid groups, Oxfam, for example, strongly favor such changes.

But food aid is part of the farm bill (Title III).  This means that any changes to current programs would have to be passed by Congress.

Good luck with that in the present political environment.

Food aid, along with SNAP (food stamps), are key issues to watch as Congress tries again to write and pass a farm bill.  Stay tuned

Resources: The excellent discussion of this issue in the Hagstrom Report (April 10) provided links to relevant documents.

 

  •