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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 But outdated restrictions have made American programs wasteful and inefficient, leaving them in critical need of reform.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

Virginia energy giant quietly boosts McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Oct. 15 in Henrico, Virginia. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe has sworn off money from the Richmond company Dominion Energy. But the utility has found more subtle ways to back McAuliffe's gubernatorial bid, records show.

Driving the news: Dominion's political action committee has donated $200,000 to a murky political group called Accountability Virginia PAC, a group with ties to prominent Democrats that's been running ads attacking Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin from the right.

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The technology industry is famously determined to change the world — but its efforts to diversify its workforce and remove bias from its products haven't changed nearly enough.

Biden: "Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been"

President Biden speaks during the 40th Annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the U.S Capitolon Oct. 16. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden speaking at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday honored members of law enforcement who died in the line of duty in 2019 and 2021 and saluted those who are currently serving.

Driving the news: "We expect everything of you, and it's beyond the capacity of anyone to meet the total expectations. Being a cop today is one hell of a lot harder than it's ever been," Biden said.