Food Aid, Amended?

On June 20th, an amendment designed to reform US food aid was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.

The amendment would have removed certain restrictions that require food destined for global aid be bought from US farmers and transported on US carriers. The stipulations were originally in place to benefit American farmers and corporations, but today are in direct conflict with the ultimate goal of food aid. By requiring food to be bought in the US and shipped by US carriers, aid costs are increased by up to a third, and delayed by as many as 14 weeks. Three months in a time of drought or famine is beyond significant, and “better late than never” is hardly applicable.

A Haitian woman carries a bag of rice donated by USAid

By easing restrictions on purchasing, USAID would be allowed to instead procure food from regions more local to the crisis area. This food could be purchased at better rates, and also result in shipping costs drastically reduced from those required to transport from the United States around the globe. Further, the current model of importing the entirety of aid has had drastic consequences for local markets. Following the earthquake in Haiti, many local rice farmers were put out of business when the market was flooded by cheap American rice imported to help in the time of crisis. This short-term fix, with long-term consequences for agriculture in the region, is not a point to be taken lightly. And yet the current model perpetuates this situation, in various iterations around the globe.

Ultimately what’s at stake for Americans, and what makes this a debate at all, is the effect this would have on US agriculture. However, food aid accounts for less than one percent of food exports from the US. The loss of a portion of this would have only minimal effect on US agricultural income.

Global relief provided by the United States is an important endeavor, but the photo ops provided by bags of grain stamped with US flags are becoming less and less relevant. Should we be so concerned about being recognized for the charitable work we do and the benefits as they relate to us? Or ultimately, should we be more concerned about the effect that charitable work has?

 

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Housing Aid the Latest Victim of the Sequester?

It sounds good, sure. Cut spending and there’s no need to increase taxes. Do you want to be taxed more? I don’t want to be taxed more. Simple solution. Everyone’s happy.

Only trouble is the implication that there’s enough frivolous spending in government that cuts won’t be missed. And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of frivolous spending in government. Or perhaps we should say “not well-apportioned” spending instead. Have to tread carefully these days. However, the numbers don’t match. Trimming excess fat from a stuffed budget is one thing, cutting away vast swathes of it is something else entirely.

And so government assistance and research programs and educational institutions are all under threat. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. And so one more victim of the dreaded sequester is housing assistance for low-income Americans. And by “one more victim,” I mean thousands more. In Fort Worth alone 99 families due to receive vouchers found them suddenly rescinded in response to sequester cuts. Play that out across the country and the numbers are telling.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Unveils House Republicans' FY2014 Budget Resolution

To make it worse, the spending cuts not only affect any future assistance that could be provided, but they impact people relying on the assistance now. In a struggle to cope with budget cuts, cities and states are canceling promised vouchers and not renewing others—leaving families and individuals who were on the cusp of finding their feet, instead back out on the street.

The catch though is the inevitable short-sightedness of it. Instant gratification as the deficit buoys slightly? Yes please! But at what future cost when the long-term effects of losing various programs manifests? Can we even anticipate the consequences?

As a modern, “enlightened” society, we can’t let all these people fall through the cracks. I stress can’t because it frustrates me personally to think that that could happen. But from an objective viewpoint, I could say the same thing. The United States can’t let these people fall through the cracks. Not without suffering the consequences of a class increasingly isolated and ignored by the powers that be and the trauma of an ever-increasing disparity of wealth. Nevertheless, that is precisely what we are doing. But at some point something has to be done. We’re all in this together. Right? Maybe? Please say yes.

Something does have to be done. And when that crux moment arrives, will we not think that we would have been better off giving them the initial assistance they needed to make it on their own? Rather than attempting to pick up the pieces? The pieces that we ourselves are so casually letting fall right now.

-David

 

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.