The House Foreign Affairs Committee by a wide margin passed the Food Security and Agricultural Development Act of 2007, which authorized funding for emergency donations of up to $2.5 billion a year from fiscal 2008 to 2012.
"It is an effort to address the long-term food needs of the chronically hungry," one committee staffer said after the vote, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The legislation will be rolled into the 2007 farm bill, the five-year law lawmakers hope to complete by fall, but it remains unclear what shape the final funding package will take.
If Congress moves to fund the food plan, the measure would be a leap from food aid appropriations around $1.2 billion in recent years.
But officials have been forced at the same time to seek hundreds of millions of dollars in supplemental funding to handle acute shortages in places like Afghanistan and Sudan, bringing the annual food aid total to about $2 billion.
The committee did not act, though, on the Bush administration's proposal to change food aid programs by allowing up to a quarter of emergency aid to come in the form of crops purchased in other countries instead of mandating U.S. commodities.
That proposal is unpopular with agriculture and shipping groups, and with some charities that sell U.S. food aid on developing country markets to fund development work.
Instead, the bill increases the funding ceiling for the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, which purchase crops abroad to deal with food emergencies.
The amount, and kind, of food aid that the United States, the world's largest provider of food aid, is just one of the issues lawmakers, interest groups and civil society are fighting out as Congress prepares the new farm bill.
"It's an incredibly strong statement on the importance of food aid, both for development and emergencies. It's not just about handing out food aid," said Ellen Levinson, who heads a group of nonprofit organizations like World Vision.
She said the requirement to spend at least $600 million on longer-term programs would provide amounts of food for nonemergency programs not seen since 2002.
The bill also increases contributions for the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which funds food aid response to emergencies.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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