The U.S. Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation. While primarily focused on domestic agricultural policies, it also includes significant language on international food aid programming. The latest version was approved last week by overwhelming margins in both Houses of Congress: passing in the Senate 87 to 13, and in the House by 369-47.
The bill’s passage was the culmination of a nearly two-year process, which included drafting and passing a bill in each chamber, bringing House and Senate negotiators together to work out differences between the two versions, and finally coming up with a compromise bill that could win broad support.
On top of the many American agricultural policies included in the law, the Farm Bill is one of the main pieces of legislation that dictates how the U.S. Government delivers lifesaving food aid to communities around the world. For many years, advocates including Action Against Hunger have pushed for reforms to the food aid system: ones that would reduce red tape, make programs more cost-effective, and allow humanitarian organizations to get assistance to people in need, faster.
Several provisions included in the final bill are ones that we have advocated for strongly. A few examples:
- The bill eliminates the previous requirement of monetization, which allowed U.S. food aid commodities to be sold to fund development programs. Monetization is still permitted if this practice makes the most sense in a given situation, but it is no longer required by law. This provides increased freedom and flexibility for Action Against Hunger and other organizations to use cash, vouchers, or whatever options make the most sense for providing food aid in any context.
- The U.S. Food Aid Program, known as Food for Peace, will continue to operate in both emergency and non-emergency programs. It will be required to set aside a minimum amount of funding — $365 million, up from $350 million — for non-emergency development programming, even amidst global humanitarian crises.
- Advocates have long pushed to allow more local and regional purchase of food assistance to ensure faster and cheaper delivery of aid and to benefit struggling local markets. This year’s bill provides some progress: Up to ten percent of resources for the McGovern-Dole School Feeding Program, which provides free meals in many schools around the world, are now allowed to be procured from local and regional sources.
Encouraging the inclusion of these and other food aid reform policies within the Farm Bill has been an important advocacy goal for Action Against Hunger over the past few years. We are pleased that the final 2018 Farm Bill builds on the 2014 Farm Bill — which provided improved flexibility for the use of cash, vouchers, and other methods of providing food assistance as efficiently as possible — with additional language to streamline the process and help Action Against Hunger do its work of feeding as many hungry people as possible through whatever approach works best in a specific time and place.
We are glad to see Congress making necessary reforms and will continue to advocate to improve the system. In the future, Action Against Hunger hopes that additional progress will be made toward changing inefficient regulations require a large percentage of food aid commodities be shipped solely on U.S.-flagged ships — this limits the flexibility of the system and, too often, slows the delivery of lifesaving supplies during a crisis.
Action Against Hunger would like to thank all the House and Senate champions who worked hard to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill’s passage, as well as all Members of Congress who voted for the final bill. Together, we are working towards our shared goal of creating a better way to deal with hunger.