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Public Statements

Letter To President Barack Obama

A bipartisan group of 29 U.S. Senators led by Tom Harkin (D-IA) today called on President Barack Obama to renew America's commitment to food assistance and fostering sustainable agricultural and economic development in less-developed countries. The lawmakers asked the President to carry out parts of the 2008 farm bill that improve and reform the Food for Peace program and encouraged him to propose added funding for the program in his detailed budget for FY 2010. In a letter to the President, the Senators argue that this economic downturn, coupled with the recent global food crisis caused by weather and other disasters, make the assistance provided under the Food for Peace program more important than ever. At the end of 2008, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that there were 963 million hungry people in the world, as compared to 800 million at the time of the World Food Summit in 1996. This number likely reflects only the early stages of increased poverty and hunger due to the job losses and reduced incomes caused by the global financial recession.

"Food for Peace is a crucial tool in fulfilling our nation's commitment to foreign assistance and global food security," said Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. "Even in the face of monumental challenges at home and abroad, we must remember those whose lives were already plagued by persistent poverty, hunger, and disease. By fully funding Food for Peace, while improving and modernizing the program's management, we can ensure we have a smart, effective policy for U.S. international assistance."

Specifically, the letter asks President Obama to implement the reforms contained in the Food, Conservation & Security Act of 2008, the farm bill, in a timely manner. This will result in more effective and responsive Food for Peace procurement practices, by spreading out commodity orders by contracting with vendors for delivery over several months or the entire year, expanding pre-positioning of commodities overseas in areas close to "hot spots" where food needs are greatest, and enhancing the quality control systems used for procuring processed products. In addition, the letter calls for funding Food for Peace at the full authorization level of $2.5 billion in order to meet the critical needs of the program in the coming year. The preliminary estimate for total Title II spending for Fiscal 2008 (regular plus emergency appropriations levels) was $2.4 billion.

The full text of the letter follows.

March 19, 2009

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As we work together to reverse the severe downturn in the global economy, we must remember those whose lives were already plagued by persistent poverty, hunger and disease.

The 1996 World Food Summit resulted in a pledge to reduce by half the number of hungry people, to below 400 million, by 2015. However, at the end of 2008, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that there are 963 million hungry people in the world. Even in the face of monumental challenges at home and abroad. America must renew its commitment to food assistance and fostering sustainable agricultural and economic development in less-developed countries.

Fully funding Title II of P.L. 480, Food for Peace, while improving and modernizing the program's management and operations is an essential part of a smart, effective policy for U.S. international assistance. Since its enactment in 1954, Food for Peace has evolved from a broader foreign policy initiative into a targeted emergency food assistance and agricultural development program.

To help people affected by conflicts, natural disasters, or other acute situations, P.L.480 provides emergency food assistance as a dependable source of nutritious foods that are often not reliably or sufficiently available in regional and local markets. The recent food crisis combined with fluctuations in prices, food availability, and export policies make the amount and dependability of U.S.-produced emergency food aid under P.L. 480 more important than ever.

To help less-developed countries alleviate chronic poverty and to improve nutrition, agricultural productivity, and food security, P.L.480 provides development assistance to between 15 and 20 countries around the world. Organizations receiving funding from P.L 480 provide food to those in need and engage the community in developing locally-appropriate programs to strengthen agricultural production capacity, protect land and water resources, and improve mother-child health and nutrition.

We encourage you to make changes to Food for Peace that will strengthen the program and improve America's ability to assist millions of hungry people around the world. These steps should include:

• Implementing reforms contained in the Food, Conservation & Security Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-246) in a timely manner. This will result in more effective and responsive P.L. 480 procurement practices.
• Spreading out commodity orders by contracting with vendors for delivery over several months or the entire year,
• Expanding pre-positioning of commodities overseas in areas close to "hot spots" where food needs are greatest
• Enhancing the quality control systems used for procuring processed products.

These changes will help assure that commodities are delivered more efficiently and provide the nutrient value expected in a timely manner.

A significant increase in funding for P.L. 480 is necessary if this program is to meet critical needs in the coming year. Funding provided for emergency assistance will total some $1.7 billion in FY2009. Given the recent history of the program and overall need, the anticipated funding requirement for FY2010 will be comparable to FY2009. The 2008 farm bill stipulates that funding for the development component under Title II can be no less than $375 million in fiscal 2009; however, the need for agricultural development assistance is far greater. The 2007-08 spike in world food prices and the resulting food crisis made it clear that overall agricultural development assistance from the United States and other donor countries must be increased. At last summer's High-Level Conference on Food Security participants including the United States committed to increasing agricultural development assistance in a collective effort to fight hunger and avoid future food crises of far larger magnitudes. Funding P.L 480 at the full authorization level of $2.5 billion is a means to fulfill this commitment to the international community and our collective future. In sum, the full authorized funding level of $2.5 billion is critically needed and well justified for fiscal 2010. We urge you to include this figure in your budget proposal.

P.L 480, Food for Peace, has enjoyed broad, bipartisan support for many years because of its mission, goals, and structure. The program has been instrumental in linking rural America and the agricultural and transportation industries to communities in the developing world while building greater awareness and support at home for international assistance that addresses the needs of the poor, hungry, and disenfranchised. Food for Peace is a crucial tool in fulfilling our nation's commitment to foreign assistance and global food security; this program deserves attention and full funding.

We thank you for your consideration of our views on this important issue.


Sincerely,

Senator Tom Harkin
Senator Mark Pryor
Senator Blanche Lincoln
Senator Max Baucus
Senator David Vitter
Senator Michael Bennet
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Mary Landrieu
Senator Sam Brownback
Senator Frank Lautenberg
Senator Thad Cochran
Senator Mike Crapo
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Ben Cardin
Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Sherrod Brown
Senator Daniel Inouye
Senator Herb Kohl
Senator Byron Dorgan
Senator Charles Schumer
Senator Pat Roberts
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Tim Johnson
Senator Patty Murray
Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Robert Casey
Senator James Risch
Senator Jack Reed


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