By: Julia Johnson
“So today, with COVID-19, I want to stress that we are not only facing a global health pandemic but also a global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children, face being pushed to the brink of starvation, with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility.”
David Beasley, U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director made this statement to the U.N. Security Council last April, just one month after the novel coronavirus made waves in the United States and the masses understood its impact on livelihoods and supply chains.
It was at this time that humanitarian aid organizations and the agriculture community called on U.S. leaders and policymakers to address the coronavirus more aggressively abroad, in the countries where the world’s poor and vulnerable live. Many have also pushed specifically for food assistance as part of this response.
Since then, several reputable reports have confirmed what David Beasley and other food security stakeholders have warned: The coronavirus can and will continue to have severe impacts on food and nutrition security.
With this projected need, how are Congress and the Administration responding through their COVID-19 stimulus packages?
The CARES Act passed at the end of March and included $1.12 billion for the State Department, USAID, the Peace Corps and for other programs funded via the annual State-Foreign Operations spending bill. It did not specifically set aside funding for food aid programs like Food for Peace Title II or the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program.
In the HEROES Act, passed last May by the House, there was no money for international food assistance, let alone international humanitarian aid. The Senate’s response to the HEROES Act, the HEALS Act, included $4.1 billion for USAID operating expenses, global health programs, and the International Disaster Assistance account to support vaccine distribution abroad. But yet again, there is no funding designated for food aid programs. This bill has not been voted on in the Senate yet.
Most recently, the Senate introduced a “skinny” COVID-19 stimulus package that does not include any money for international humanitarian aid or food aid programs.
As the body of evidence demonstrating the need for food aid as a result of the coronavirus continues to grow, so does support for humanitarian aid among both Democrats and Republicans. Negotiations on the next COVID-19 stimulus package continue to take place, and anti-hunger advocates remain vocal on the need for food assistance. Congress will return in September to likely vote on the next stimulus package. OFW will be tracking these negotiations and the final bill.