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- As Delivered - 

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at the full Committee hearing on food aid reform:


“Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for calling this hearing.  And you know, as the Ranking Member, I want to just say that this is another wonderful example of the bipartisanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  Thank you for bringing the Committee’s focus to the pressing need to reform our food aid program.


“And we’re fortunate of course—we’ve heard from them—to have a panel of experts who have dealt with this issue inside government, in the NGO world, in academic settings.   So I want to say to all our witnesses: thank you for sharing your views and welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.


“I want to single out Dr. Shah, who I had the pleasure of working with for many years with USAID.  It’s good to see you again, Raj, and welcome you. 


“And Dan Glickman, who, by the time I came to Congress 27 years ago, was already a rising star in Congress.  Or actually he was already a star, not even rising.  And then served as the distinguished Secretary of Agriculture.  And it’s really great to see you as well, Dan.


“And Dr. Barrett, Reverend Beckmann, your legend precedes you.  So this is just a wonderful panel and we’re so fortunate to have all of you here today.


“Let’s note at the outset: the world is better off because of the Food for Peace Program.  Since its launch in the 1950s, this effort’s fed more than a billion people in more than 150 countries.  It has saved countless lives.  Food for Peace is something that we should all be proud, of which we should all be proud.


“But we should also be honest: Food for Peace is now showing its age.  It was designed to meet challenges in a much different world. For example, the majority of our food aid in developing countries must be bought and shipped from the United States—even when local food is available at a lower price.  In the 1950s, this made sense.  The federal government had a massive surplus of food on its hands.  Food for Peace was a smart way to help those in need and to prevent needless waste.


“But today, we don’t have that surplus of food.  What’s more, buying food and transporting it from the U.S. to a crisis zone costs almost 50 percent more than purchasing food products locally.  And that’s not a very good bang for our buck.  And when we’re talking about feeding hungry people, every little bit obviously counts. 


“And to make matters worse, under our current program, it takes four to six months longer for food to reach hungry people than it would if we bought food locally.  Raj Shah and I had many of these discussions when he was USAID Administrator.


“To put it in the simplest terms: the Food for Peace program is slow, it’s costly, and it’s not doing enough to get food to people who are hungry and dying.


“So we need to take a fresh look at this program.  After all, even though the world has changed a great deal, obviously the need for food assistance hasn’t.  A refugee crisis in Syria is spilling from the Middle East into Europe and onto our own shores.  A devastating earthquake in Nepal has left thousands in desperate need of help.  And of course, with each passing year, we’re feeling the far-reaching effects of climate change more and more.  Hurricanes and typhoons of unprecedented destructive power, even as historic droughts endanger the global food supply.


“So we need to take a fresh look at the program.  We need to make sure food aid is tailored to meet the challenges of our time.  The Administration has put forth suggestions.  So have lawmakers.  And let me acknowledge Chairman Royce for his leadership in particular on this issue. The common theme in these proposals is flexibility.  Sometimes it will make the most sense to buy American agriculture and to contract with American shippers to get food where it needs to go.  Sometimes buying local products will get us the best outcome.  We need a program flexible enough to respond in the best way on a case-by-case basis.


“Today, I am looking forward to hearing our witnesses answer questions.  I want to hear the ideas about what this program looks like and the right way to put it together.  In particular, I’d like to focus on the benefits of a cash-based system versus in-kind commodity donations, on new methods of delivery, and on local and regional procurement programs. 


“Reforming a long-standing government program is never an easy task, but the need for these changes is clear.  It goes back to why we have a food aid program in the first place.  Not to subsidize growers, shippers, or NGOs.  But to prevent men, women, and children in the developing world from starving to death.  So let’s work toward building a new program that meets this critical demand in the most efficient and effective way for the American taxpayer.


“I yield back, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for your courtesy.”