WASHINGTON — Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Representative David Rouzer of North Carolina, chairman of the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, on July 7 sent letters to the Secretary of Agriculture and the administrators of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) requesting answers to a May 15 article in American Shipper that suggested the agencies were conducting behind-closed-door negotiations “that would have dire consequences for the delivery of U.S. in-kind food aid.”
The American Shipper article said the negotiations revolved around a proposed tradeoff involving an increase in the annual stipend paid to ship owners under the Maritime Security Program to $5 million per ship from the current $3.1 million in exchange for support for a USAID proposal to earmark 45% of its international food aid funding under P.L.480 Title II for local and regional purchase. Currently, no Title II funding was available for regional and local purchase, and an $80-million-per-year local and regional purchase program authorized under the 2014 farm act went unfunded in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
The M.R.P. stipends are awarded to 60 U.S.-flag ships considered militarily useful in the event of war or national emergency. Owners of those ships agree to make them available to the military should they be needed. Appropriations for the M.R.P. in the current fiscal year totaled $186 million. A hike in the stipend to $5 million per vessel would require a $114-million increase in overall funding to $300 million a year.
The funding required to raise the per-ship stipend would come from food aid program funding, according to the American Shipper article.
Mr. Conaway and Mr. Rouzer said in their letters, “This appears to be another attempt on the part of USAID to shift from U.S. in-kind commodity-based food aid to cash vouchers … however, cash-based assistance is highly vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.”
The congressmen also pointed to the overall reduction in shipments from the United States that may result from a shift to cash-based food aid from in-kind assistance, which would adversely affect the shipping industry and even lead to some U.S.-flag vessels being scrapped.The congressmen requested the agencies produce “all documents and communications referring or relating to draft legislation or any other proposal that would amend or change the M.S.P. or amounts allocated for USAID to spend on cash-based assistance” for the time period Jan. 2, 2010, to the present. They asked for responses to be sent to the agriculture committee no later than July 21, 2105.