Urge Congress to reform food aid to help the hungry

On Nov. 13, Congress will return for the lame-duck session to finish outstanding business for the year. In this post-election season, we must all urge Congress to move forward with the many legislative issues that have been on hold.

With a press deadline that preceded the election, I write without knowing the outcome of the election. But it doesn’t matter when it comes to international food aid reform — it is an issue that transcends party lines. Both Republicans and Democrats have much to gain from moving forward on behalf of millions of hungry people abroad who will continue to suffer as long as reform languishes in Congress.

One may be surprised to discover a remarkable connection between the sabbatical year cycles for land as described in the Book of Exodus and the American legislative cycles for the food we eat and distribute to the world. Every seventh year, the land benefited from lying fallow and the suspension of agricultural work, allowing the land to rejuvenate. Such an injunction was meant to cultivate a healthy respect for the land and to see our need for sustenance as being directly linked to the health of what could produce it.

Every five to seven years, the U.S. Farm Bill is reauthorized by Congress. This legislative cycle presents an opportunity to re-examine a 1933 post-Depression-era bill. Like replenishing the land during the sabbatical year, this cycle should be an impetus for creating a better farm bill. The provisions of the most recent version of the bill are directly connected to a model of food aid based on distribution of U.S. commodities. One might think that with excess of a specific U.S. commodity, distributing it to those in need makes absolute sense, and sometimes it does. But the delivery of these commodities is often delayed up to 14 weeks. They’re also exorbitantly expensive. According to the USAID 2010 International Food Assistance Report, only 47 percent of the total amount we spend on food aid grains is actually spent on food. The other 53 percent pays for shipping and other expenses. We must address this imbalance now that stymies us in getting food to those who are hungry.

There is an answer. A practice known as Local and Regional Procurement, (LRP) allows us to secure food aid directly from local growers by paying cash in lieu of shipping commodities. This is a critical provision that would ensure the farm bill includes positive food aid practices. This means that local food markets would not be flooded by U.S. commodities, which prevents local economies from growing strong and local farmers from feeding their own. LRP becomes a permanent provision under the Senate version of the bill that was passed earlier this year and is a critical component to addressing hunger in a sustainable way.

With such an imperative to reduce cost and increase efficiency, do we have any more excuses for postponing food aid reform now that the election is over? Congress is delaying critical food aid reform that will enable more hungry people around the world to feed themselves.

If Congress continues to drag its feet, the money that exists for emergency food aid will run out in 2013. This could put up to 30 million hungry people around the world at risk.

We need to remind our legislators why they came to Washington: They came to make a difference for Americans and people around the world. Ending global hunger is a human issue. Let’s make sure our elected leaders hear that loud and clear.

Visit www.ajws.org/reversehunger/action to join me in calling on our members of Congress to protect and reform food aid — now and for generations to come.

Rabbi Susan Leider
is senior spiritual leader at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon.

Rabbi Susan Leider
Rabbi Susan Leider

Rabbi Susan Leider is the senior rabbi at Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. She can be reached at [email protected].