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 But outdated restrictions have made American programs wasteful and inefficient, leaving them in critical need of reform.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

1 dead as severe storms pummel the South

A tree that fell on a home carport damaged a vehicle during a storm in Central, Louisiana. No injuries were reported, according to Central Fire Department. Photo: Central Fire Department/Twitter

Strong storms lashed the South early Saturday, spawning at least one tornado and unleashing powerful winds and hail. And forecasters warned more severe weather was expected to hit parts of the region in the coming hours.

Details: Thousands of customers lost power in Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, according to tracking site poweroutage.us. An F3 tornado that hit St Landry Parish, Louisiana, killed one person and wounded seven others.

Scoop: Biden eyes Russia adviser criticized as soft on Kremlin

Photo: Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images

President Biden is considering appointing Matthew Rojansky, head of the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, as Russia director on the National Security Council, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Why it matters: Rojansky has been praised for his scholarship on Russia and is frequently cited in U.S. media for his expert commentary. But his work has drawn criticism — including in a 2018 open letter from Ukrainian alumni of Kennan that blasted the think tank he runs as an "unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference."

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak.
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings.
  5. World: Iran tightens COVID restrictions amid fourth wave of pandemic.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.