By Patricia Kisare
In 2013 Congress failed yet again to pass a comprehensive farm bill. The farm bill, which Congress must reauthorize every five years, is the main mechanism through which the government sets out its domestic and global food and agriculture policies.
After failing to agree on a long-term farm bill in 2012, Congress passed a one-year extension which expired on September 30, 2013. This past summer both the Senate and the House passed their own versions of the bill but failed to agree on key programs. The most contentious issue has been how much funding to allocate for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). On October 30, Agriculture Committee members from both chambers began negotiations to resolve differences between the two bills but failed to reach an agreement before year’s end.
Global food programs, such as food assistance to countries experiencing humanitarian crisis, are also authorized in the farm bill. Food assistance from the U.S and other donor countries helps to mitigate the impact of humanitarian emergencies. Despite being one of the largest donors of food aid to low-income countries, the U.S. food aid system needs to be improved to make it more efficient.
For instance, the current policy requires that at least 75 percent of food must be procured and processed in the U.S., then shipped only on U.S. vessels. This means only 25 percent of food aid can be purchased from sources near the crisis. However, studies have shown that buying food closer to where it is needed reaches affected areas faster and helps to boost the economies of countries in crisis.
Last year President Obama recommended that some of these food aid reforms be implemented. We visited key offices in Congress to request that the president’s proposal be included in the new farm bill. We will continue to meet with policymakers to advance these proposed policy changes, as the farm bill discussion continues in 2014.