Neediest families at home, abroad helped by bills
In separate statements, officials of Feeding America and Bread for the World praised the provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 and the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 and urged Congress to swiftly pass both bills.
“The agreement is a positive step forward and includes several critical provisions that will help Feeding America's 198 food banks and the more than 46 million Americans struggling with hunger that we serve each year,” said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America.
“Specifically the tax provisions strengthen the food donation tax deduction by expanding it to farmers and growers and making it permanent for all business taxpayers, eliminating uncertainty and making it easier for businesses of all sizes to donate surplus food rather than landfill it,” Aviv said.
Other provisions praised by the group included making permanent certain tax advantages for the poorest of families and making it easier for donors to contribute to food charities from their IRA accounts.
“We are also pleased that the spending provisions provide for full funding levels for federal nutrition programs for FY 2016 and make additional targeted investments in food assistance programs for low-income and vulnerable seniors, the Summer Food Service EBT pilot program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program,” she said.
Bread for the World was similarly effusive in its praise of the budget and tax bills. David Beckmann, president of the organization called the bills “a victory for working families and those who are struggling. This legislation will make a real difference in the lives of millions of people, both in the US and around the world.”
Beckmann said the tax bill makes permanent key improvements to the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC). According the organization, these two provisions together lift more people out of poverty than any other program in the US besides Social Security. Making the improvements permanent will prevent 16 million people from falling into or deeper into poverty, Beckmann said.
Shipping provision stricken
Bread for the World also praised the spending bill for something it does not contain, a shipping requirement for foreign food aid that was stricken from the version of the bill agreed upon by Congressional leaders. Like many omnibus bills, the spending bill can be a vehicle for all kinds of additional provisions addressing concerns that might sometimes seem far afield from the bill’s core purpose.
Ryan Quinn, senior policy adviser for Bread for the World, said the shipping provision, which would have required at least 75% of American foreign food aid to be shipped in US-flagged vessels, amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of American shipping companies at the expense of food assistance to needy populations overseas. This particular provision has been seeking a home in other legislation too, Quinn said.
“It would be significantly more expensive than existing shipping arrangements for food aid. It would amount to $75 million that would go to shipping companies and not to aid. This was also attached at one time to the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill,” Quinn told FoodNavigator-USA.
Preference for in-kind food aid
The issue around the shipping of food aid points to a quirk in the US system for aiding less developed countries or those that have been stricken by natural disasters or civil strife. The US has a history of providing aid in the form of in-kind food donations. This practice is something that is roundly criticized by US allies in that it can distort local economies when in-kind food donations are diverted and sold as black market commodities. Allies also complain that this strong predilection on the part of the US amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for food exports. Most other international donors concentrate on cash donations which can be used for local market food purchases to alleviate hunger, Quinn said. It’s something he said his organization would like to see change.
“We are trying to push for more flexibility for food aid. There are ways to improve this and make it more efficient and flexible. You do not always have to use commodified shipments. With funding you could have the flexibility to use local and regional purchases. For Syrian refugees in Turkey, for example, there has been some success using food vouchers given to the refugees to purchase their own food that they are familiar with. It’s not just one big shipment of rice,” Quinn said.
“There has been pushback from the large shipping companies and from some in the agricultural community to this idea. They do feel some ownership of the program and it’s something they have been doing for 60 years. But really these shipments are such a small amount of the overall commodity markets, they don’t really contribute much to the profit and loss,” he said.