President’s proposed budget includes important reforms; troubling cuts to disaster aid

April 10, 2013

Mercy Corps Director of Policy and Advocacy Jeremy Konyndyk today responded to the Obama administration’s FY2014 budget request

There is much to admire in President Obama’s FY14 budget, and we applaud his continued commitment to the world’s poorest people. In particular, the President’s proposed reforms to the United States’ food aid system are important and long overdue. However, Mercy Corps is also deeply concerned by the Administration’s proposed cuts to disaster assistance amidst a budget request that otherwise provides adequate support for humanitarian aid.

The President is requesting roughly $629 million for disaster assistance and response within the overall International Disaster Assistance account (with the remaining balance going to food aid). This represents a drop of more than half a billion dollars relative to the equivalent FY13 appropriation and a drop of roughly a quarter billion dollars relative to the five-year average for the disaster response budget.

This cut would severely hinder the United States’ ability to respond to the needs of millions of people who fall victim every year to conflict or natural disasters. The proposed reductions would particularly constrain the U.S.’ ability to respond to the Syria crisis, which is enormous and continues to grow. These cuts would also put a significant squeeze on lower-profile emergencies such as those in Mali, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, potentially forcing a zero-sum trade-off between those emergencies and the crisis in Syria.

On the positive side, we welcome the President’s decision to propose reforms to U.S. food aid practices. These programs, particularly those under Food for Peace, serve as a foundation of global efforts to fight hunger, but there is room for significant structural improvement. Effective reform, which would require approval from Congress, could increase efficiency and impact by diversifying practices beyond the current predominant reliance on shipping U.S.-sourced food commodities to developing countries.

The President’s request would increase local and regional purchase (LRP) of food aid commodities, which in Mercy Corps’ experience is one quarter less expensive, and gets to people in need two-thirds faster, than equivalent goods shipped from the US. The President’s budget also proposes to do away with monetization, a highly inefficient practice that entails selling food in a given country and using the proceeds to fund development programs. Our only disappointment amidst these otherwise good reforms is that the savings from eliminating monetization are not being used to extend the reach of anti-hunger development programs.

Even as we strongly support reforming U.S. food aid policy, we also recognize the political struggle that this will entail. As we move forward, it is important for leaders in Congress to recognize that food aid reform is long overdue but is not an invitation to further slash aid budgets. In anticipation of this process, Mercy Corps recently joined with many other major anti-hunger agencies in urging the Obama Administration and Congress to uphold several core principles as they proceed with legislating food aid reform. These principles include using efficiencies to extend program reach rather than simply save money, building significantly more flexibility into the program, ensuring that structural reforms protect the core focus and effective elements of the existing program, and pursuing reforms in an open and inclusive fashion.

Mercy Corps looks forward to working with Congress and the Administration to pursue these priorities in the upcoming appropriations cycle and the Farm Bill authorization process.

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About Mercy Corps:
Mercy Corps helps people turn the crises they confront into the opportunities they deserve. Driven by local needs, its programs provide communities in the world’s toughest places with the tools and support they need to transform their own lives. Mercy Corps works in over 40 countries, improving the lives of 19 million people.