Facing a back-to-back decline in food and ag exports, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday the USDA would provide an additional $1.3 billion to build overseas demand for U.S. products and an additional $1 billion for global hunger relief. The USDA currently spends a combined $2.5 billion a year on those objectives.
In a marked contrast to the polarized House, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously on Thursday for larger spending on domestic and international food assistance. Also unlike the House, the bill did not propose new restrictions on SNAP eligibility, a key issue in the debt limit bill enacted early this month.
After five seasons without meaningful rainfall in the Horn of Africa, famine is projected in parts of southern Somalia in the spring without reliable food aid, a top USAID official told senators on Wednesday. "Preventing famine and large-scale deaths across the region in the coming year will require sustained and robust humanitarian assistance from the international community," said Sarah Charles, head of USAID's Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance.
Foreign trade and U.S. food aid will be the subjects on Wednesday of "the first of many hearings the committee has planned as we gear up for the 2023 farm bill," said the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The FAO Food Price Index, a barometer of prices for food commodities, rocketed to a record high immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine and disrupted food supply chains. Now it is down for the third month in a row, with large global harvests at hand, but Ukraine is a new entrant on the list of nations needing food aid, said the UN agency.
While Republicans objected to the cost of public nutrition programs such as SNAP, the leader of the House Appropriations Committee said on Wednesday that “we will be doing something about extending the waivers of the school meals programs.” The waivers, a response to the pandemic that allows free meals for all public school students, are due to expire on June 30.
The Biden administration said it would put $500 million into farm supports, boosting U.S. wheat production by up to 18 percent and expanding production of food grains and edible oils in an effort to fill the gap created by warfare in Ukraine.“ This funding is going to help ease rising food prices at home as well as abroad caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine,” said President Biden on Thursday.
The United States stands ready to provide food aid overseas if it is needed in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a letter to grain merchandisers. At the same time, the letter closed the door to suggestions for the emergency planting of crops on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve, saying it would be impractical.
Global food shortages are a real possibility as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Biden told reporters while meeting with allies in Brussels on Thursday. Western leaders, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, joined Biden in saying they would step up their hunger-relief programs and encourage their farmers to grow more food.
Sharply lower prices for vegetable oils, down nearly 10 percent in a month, contributed to the first decline in the Food Price Index since last May, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on Thursday. The index fell by 2.5 percent in June, although it was still about one-third higher than a year ago.
As food insecurity soars among families with children and a slate of federal benefits is set to expire later this month, a critical anti-hunger tool has yet to be implemented, leaving at least 2.7 million kids without assistance. (No paywall)
The final coronavirus aid package of the year would direct 3 percent of its $900 billion in funding to food assistance and relief for agricultural producers, according to its Democratic and Republican sponsors. "It's a deal that must come together," said one of the sponsors, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, on Sunday.
Pointing to the impact of the pandemic on the economy, a U.S. district judge vacated on Sunday a Trump administration regulation setting stricter time limits on SNAP benefits for able-bodied adults who do not work at least 20 hours a week. Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the district court for the District of Columbia said the USDA, which runs SNAP, failed to justify the regulation, which would end benefits for 700,000 people.
Last week, the USDA extended a series of flexibilities in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children for the duration of the Covid-19 public health emergency. The waivers for the program, commonly known as WIC, have allowed participants to apply for benefits remotely rather than in person, and expanded both pickup options and the scope of eligible products. (No paywall)
"Everything's on the table" as Congress sets to work on a new coronavirus relief bill, and most of it will end up in the wastebasket, said Senate Finance chairman Chuck Grassley. Farm groups are pressing for billions of dollars in aid to offset low commodity prices and anti-hunger activists say a temporary increase in SNAP benefits would reduce hunger and stimulate the economy.(No paywall)
As it announced contracts for up to $1.47 billion to carry the Farmers to Families Food Box initiative through July and August, the USDA also said the program could end on Sept. 1, or soon afterward, as funding for the food giveaway program runs out. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has highlighted the Food Box as a boon to hungry Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, while the White House opposed a temporary expansion of food-stamp benefits.(No paywall)
Two of the largest meat processors in the country, Tyson Foods and Cargill Meat Solutions, are among roughly 200 "approved suppliers" for a USDA initiative to buy surplus fresh produce, dairy products and pre-cooked chicken and pork for distribution to needy Americans. The USDA said it approved $1.2 billion in contracts for the Farmers to Families Food Box program but did not list individual awards.(No paywall)
Farmers and ranchers will need billions of dollars in coronavirus aid beyond the $16 billion in cash that USDA plans to disburse by June, 28 senators said in a letter to President Trump. At the same time, a band of university economists said USDA aid is weighted 4-to-1 toward producers and that the agency "should arguably show an equivalent amount of creativity to help the broader spectrum of struggling Americans with food needs."(No paywall)