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A USAID shipment arriving in Sudan. Photo: Ashraf Shazly / AFP via Getty Images

For more than 60 years, the U.S. has been the world’s foremost provider of food aid to victims of humanitarian disasters. But outdated restrictions have made American programs wasteful and inefficient, leaving them in critical need of reform.

Why it matters: This week, Congress begins considering the Food for Peace Modernization Act to address these issues without increasing spending. If adopted, the changes could save the lives of 40,000 children in food emergencies each year.

The background:

  • Food for Peace, the main U.S. food aid program, is reauthorized with the Farm Bill roughly every five years.
  • Under previous Farm Bills, only about 30 cents of every food aid dollar end up going toward food. That's because the program has for decades required that all food aid be purchased in the U.S. and half of it shipped overseas on U.S.–flagged vessels, even when not appropriate or economical. Food for Peace must also sell 15% of food shipments in developing countries, which routinely loses 25 to 45% of those taxpayer dollars.
  • As a result, while budgets have stayed fairly constant, the amount of food shipped has fallen roughly 60 percent in a generation, as more and more of the funds meant for humanitarian relief are spent on middlemen. All told, the policy wastes nearly $400 million every year.

What's next: As Congress prepares to mark up the next Farm Bill this spring, bipartisan leaders proposed reforms this week that would dramatically increase the proportion of funds spent on life-saving food — as opposed to transport, storage and administration — such as buying food locally or giving recipients biometrically verified vouchers if they live near well-functioning markets.

The bottom line: The farm lobby supports such reforms, as do all the major humanitarian relief organizations. Adopting them would save both money and lives.

Chris Barrett is Stephen B. and Janice G. Ashley Professor of Applied Economics and Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 5 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Teens and adults missed 37 million vaccinations during COVID — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker