Rough water: U.S. food aid imperiled by proposed shipping rule

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A small provision sneaked into a bill currently before a Senate committee might have big consequences. Section 318 of the House-approved Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act would require that 75 percent of U.S. food aid be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels. The cost, according to USAID: $75 million that could be spent on lifesaving food aid. The law would effectively deprive 2 million people of food assistance in emergency food crisis areas like South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic.

The cargo preference requirement, previously at 50 percent, needlessly endangers the food security of millions with little benefit for anyone who is not a shipping tycoon. Congress has already eliminated reimbursements from the Maritime Administration to USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in last year’s budget agreement. The combined effect of these provisions would be to deprive 4 million people of food aid, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Proponents claim that subsidized U.S.-flagged cargo ships improve military readiness, but the U.S. Department of Defense and Government Accountability Office have repeatedly rejected this argument since the ships are expensive and inefficient.

The food aid program is one of the best things we do as a country — not only humanitarian but also an effective diplomatic tool. Millions of taxpayer dollars for this valuable program shouldn’t be squandered on an industry handout. And millions shouldn’t have to go without food because of an unforced error.

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