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Corker Statement at Hearing on Modernizing Food for Peace Program

Eliminating “Ridiculous Requirements” Could Free Up $300 Million in Existing Resources to Feed 9.5 Million More Starving People Each Year

WASHINGTON – With an estimated 815 million people suffering from hunger and 20 million at risk of starvation worldwide, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today made the following statement at a hearing to examine current policies governing the delivery of food aid through the Food for Peace program and ways to use existing resources more efficiently to reach more people in need.

“We are currently facing a historic humanitarian crisis with over 800 million people worldwide who are in need of food aid.

“The United States continues to be the world leader in providing more than a third of all emergency food aid—over $2 billion annually.

“Sadly, despite our generosity, there are shortfalls from what is needed due to other donor nations not fully meeting the challenge.

“In next year’s Farm Bill deliberations, we have an opportunity to do more without having to spend more money.

“A little over half of our food aid is provided through the Farm Bill, saddling our Food for Peace program with U.S. commodity and cargo preference requirements.

“The Farm Bill requires aid to be sourced almost entirely from U.S. farmers, half of which must be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels according to cargo preference rules.

“Because of these utterly ridiculous requirements, only 35 to 40 cents of each dollar is actually used to provide food to people who are starving.

“If we relaxed the commodity preference to match the needs overseas, the overhead costs would drop dramatically. U.S. farmers would still play a vital role in the program, and we would free up over 300 million dollars to be used to feed up to 9.5 million more starving people each year.

“One of the major obstacles to modernizing Food for Peace are those who continue to support and profit from cargo preference rules.

“Representatives of the shipping industry claim that food aid has a significant impact on U.S. maritime jobs and our military sealift capacity to move defense materials overseas.

“I’ve asked our witnesses, we have two panels today, to provide the committee with facts, analysis and sound research to determine whether this is true.

“For example, the industry argues that 40 ships and 2,000 mariners needed for military sealift are at stake should we reduce the amount of food aid we ship from the U.S.

“A simple review of USAID data shows that, in 2016, only five U.S.-flagged ships—out of a fleet of 175—arguably rely on food aid shipments to stay afloat—let me say this: only one of which is even capable of carrying military cargo. One.

“Some have even questioned why we have cargo preference at all since there is little supporting evidence that the requirement effectively secures naval sealift capacity.

“For example, the vast majority of food aid is moved on ships incapable of moving military cargoes, and the ones that can already receive a $5 million a year subsidy.

“According to Navy officials briefing our committee earlier this year, we maintain a Strategic Sealift Officer Reserve program that can meet virtually all of our mariner sealift mobilization requirements.

“We also cannot forget the human toll of commodity and cargo preferences, with millions of people who go hungry each year unnecessarily because of these two ridiculous requirements that Congress places on food aid.

“One of our witnesses, Dr. Barrett of Cornell University, will testify later that research suggests at least 40,000 children die annually who would otherwise be saved if we reformed this system.

“There are few areas in government where we can have more impact on more lives without additional resources than by modernizing the Food for Peace program.

“I urge all my colleagues to listen to today’s testimony [and] work with us to make common sense changes in food aid that are long overdue.

“And let me just say this, I spoke to the Tennessee Farm Bureau, each state has one. The audience was aghast at the fact that here in Washington those people that quote, quote represent them with .1 percent of U.S. ag production going to this. Not 1 percent, .1 percent.

“They were aghast at the fact that Congress has people up here in the name of protecting them. These are good people who care about their communities. They care about people around the world. They were aghast at the fact that Congress had these ridiculous requirements in place and that people are starving because of these ridiculous requirements when their goal is to feed America and to feed the world.”

Click here for complete testimony and video footage of the hearing.