USDA and the U.S. Agency for International Development are being asked to prepare contingency plans for providing food assistance to countries hit by war and other acts of terrorism in the Middle East.
Because of that several members of Congress have sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Gayle E. Smith, administrator of the U.S. AID, asking them to include U.S. rice in those emergency food aid distributions.
The problem is that some in the Obama administration and members of Congress want to provide cash rather than in-kind aid so the food agencies in those countries ostensibly can source the food locally, according to Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and one of the signers of the letter.
Rep. Crawford, who chairs the House Ag Committee’s SubCommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, addressed the issue in comments to the Arkansas Rice Annual Meeting and in an interview with Delta Farm Press.
“We had a fight over this in the farm bill,” Crawford said. “The chairman of the Foreign Affairs thought it would be a good idea to cut that (food aid) out and instead make it cash. Now we have enough of a fight on our hands trying to get them to put rice into food aid. But then they want to make it cash so they can locally source.
“I don’t know if you know it or not, but people who are in dire straits and need food aid, they don’t have Kroger. You can’t locally source most of the food aid they receive, if not all of it. So cash becomes a real problem. No. 1 it affects us here in Arkansas, and No. 2 it becomes a recipe for disaster.”
Aside from the potential for mismanagement, the law of unintended consequences can come into play and that cash can be used for arms purchases or other purposes for which the funds were not intended.
“Many times the cash can turn into things that may not be good,” said Rep. Crawford. “The next time we show up at the port they may have turned that cash into weapons they’re pointing at us.”
Rep. Crawford was joined by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., in drafting the letter. Co-signers included Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter of Louisiana, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Twelve other representatives signed the letter: Hill, Westerman and Womack of Arkansas, Garamendi and LaMalfa of California, Bost of Illinois, Abraham, Boustany and Fleming of Louisiana and Kelly of Mississippi.
To read a copy of the letter, visit http://crawford.house.gov/uploadedfiles/rice.pdf.