Washington D.C. – Ranking Member Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a Farm bill conferee, gave the following remarks at the first meeting of the conference committee.
"I’d like to thank Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Cochran, and Ranking Member Peterson for calling this conference meeting. I’d also like to thank Leader Pelosi for naming me as a conferee.
As all of you know, the Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over Title III of the bills before us, which includes international food aid and export promotion measures.
I’m going to focus most of my remarks on food aid reform. But first, I wanted to address several other areas of concern in the bills that directly affect my congressional district and the State of New York. Specifically, I strongly oppose cuts to SNAP and find it a moral outrage that we would consider gutting this program when so many Americans are still recovering from the effects of the worst recession in generations. I urge my colleagues to reject the cuts in the House bill, which will disproportionately impact the ability of elderly, children, and those less fortunate to feed themselves.
I would also urge this conference committee to include strong conservation and animal welfare provisions in the final conference report. Finally, I believe the conference should maintain our current sugar policy, which will help protect American jobs.
As the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I am frequently reminded that our system for delivering food aid abroad is an outdated vestige of the 1950s. It takes far too long to get food aid to starving people, wastes tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and often harms agricultural markets in the countries we are trying to help. In these times of budget belt-tightening, we need to find a better, more efficient way to distribute aid.
The provisions in Title III of the Senate bill are modest, common-sense reforms that will help the U.S. save more lives with our overseas food assistance, while ending inefficient practices that waste U.S. taxpayer dollars. While I support all of the food aid reforms included in the Senate bill, I am particularly supportive of Section 3008, which would increase flexibility in choosing between cash-based resources or commodities -- thereby reducing the reliance on the wasteful practice of monetization.
Specifically, this provision would allow our food aid programs to include up to 20% cash funding, which would allow the U.S. to use the most appropriate tools to respond to emergencies, including local and regional procurement, cash transfers, vouchers, and agricultural commodities. I would note that the 20% cash flexibility provision in the Senate bill is narrower than the 45% language included in the amendment Chairman Royce and I offered to the House farm bill on this subject, which received unprecedented support from our colleagues.
As we face food insecurity crises in Syria, Somalia, the Sahel and the DRC, USAID is charged with the unenviable task of deciding who won't get the food aid they need because they've maxed out their ability to purchase food locally. The bottom line is that these artificial restrictions on our ability to respond to humanitarian emergencies must be reformed to make our programs more flexible and efficient. I urge my colleagues to adopt the modest Senate reforms on Title III."