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Biden will ask Congress for money to combat global hunger

The funds would come on top of $670 million in aid the administration announced Wednesday

Harvesters at work in a Ukrainian wheat field in 2017.
Harvesters at work in a Ukrainian wheat field in 2017. (Pavlo Pakhomenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s next supplemental spending request for Ukraine will include money to deal with a spiraling global food crisis, the United States’ No. 1 diplomat said in testimony before a Senate panel Wednesday.

“This is a very, very dramatic problem that already existed of course,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told the Senate State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, where he was testifying about the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget request. “It has been exacerbated by Russia’s aggression, by the invasion.”

Blinken did not offer an estimate on the amount of money that Biden would request for food aid. As the secretary was testifying before the Senate panel, the Biden administration announced it was contributing $670 million in additional humanitarian assistance to address the global food crisis impacts of Russia’s invasion, and the new funds would go beyond that.

Hunger is increasing due to climate change-induced drought and changing weather patterns, ongoing conflict in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia, and supply chain constraints created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest producers of wheat, is exacerbating the problem, particularly in the developing world.

As of last week, the Agricultural Price Index was up 43 percent compared to last January while maize and wheat were up 56 percent and 55 percent, respectively over the same time period, according to a Monday brief from the World Bank.

“We have Ukrainian farmers, who instead of being able to deal with their crops have been forced to fight or to flee,” Blinken said, in his second of four scheduled Capitol Hill appearances this week. “We have Russia blockading Black Sea ports so that even though Ukraine is actually producing a lot of wheat, it can’t get out of the country because of this blockade. All of that is having an effect, not just in the immediate region but all around the world.”

The World Bank estimated that nearly 2.37 billion people – roughly 30 percent of the world’s population – lacked access to adequate food in 2020. And the Global Network Against Food Crises, a United Nations-European Union initiative, estimates that 161million people were at risk of starvation last year, a 4 percent increase over 2020.

Lawmakers offer support

“We’re the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth, we have to step in on that,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said, while also urging Blinken to push the White House to include a funding request for global vaccination efforts in the Ukraine-related emergency spending request.

Lindsey Graham, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, added his voice to those supporting emergency funding for international COVID-19 assistance and food aid.

“The World Food Program is under siege,” the South Carolina Republican said. “So, there’s a lot of talk in the building about another supplemental. Count me in.”

Cory Booker, D-N.J., at a Tuesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, also asked Blinken about the administration’s plans to address food shortages.

“This is an area of intense focus for us,” the secretary responded, noting the administration would use its rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council in May to focus on global food insecurity. “We are working right now with countries around the world to get them to increase the donations they’re making and resources they’re giving to the World Food Program, to the Food and Agriculture Organization. We’re pressing on countries that have large stockpiles of food to make those available, not to put in place export restrictions.”

Booker said there was a roughly $10 billion “urgent need” to address global hunger and he said the United States should put in $5 billion to $7 billion of that amount to prod donations from other wealthy donor countries.

“The dollars invested in food security now save us hundreds of dollars in terms of the instability that’s created when we don’t meet these crises,” Booker said. “So, I am hoping that the Biden administration in their next Ukraine package, because these are related issues, is asking for the resources necessary to meet this crisis.”

Executive action

The $670 million in new emergency food assistance announced by the U.S. Agency for International Development on Wednesday is coming from two pots of money.

The first pot – the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust – comes from a special congressionally provided authority that hasn’t been used since 2014. Named after a former Missouri Republican lawmaker, the authority permits USAID to respond to unanticipated global food crises that have exhausted its previously allocated fiscal year Food for Peace funds by tapping an Agriculture Department-administered trust account.

USAID is drawing down the full balance of $282 million from the trust fund to purchase U.S. agriculture products that will be sent to six countries “facing severe food insecurity,” according to a USAID press release. Those countries are: Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen.

The second pot of money is coming from the Agriculture Department, which will supply the remaining $388 million from its Commodity Credit Corporation account “to cover ocean freight transportation, inland transport, internal transport, shipping and handling, and other associated costs,” for the food deliveries, according to the release.

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