Since it was founded in 1775 during the American Revolution, the U.S. Merchant Marine has worked hard to fulfill the promise of the American flag. For more than two hundred years, the U.S. Merchant Marine has been there for our country, providing the sealift needed to carry out America’s military, humanitarian and commercial objectives at home and abroad by ensuring the availability of U.S.-flag ships, crewed by U.S. citizens and proudly flying the U.S. flag on the high seas and in ports throughout the world. Without the U.S.-flag fleet, our great nation would be compelled to rely upon foreign contractors, foreign-flag vessels and foreign crews to get our military to the fight, to support our troops, to respond to national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and to carry out our foreign policy missions including the delivery of food aid to the world’s neediest peoples. Our U.S. fleet helps ensure that we retain our independence and our freedom.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that there are more than 925 million hungry people with too little to eat, and at least 12 million metric tons of commodities are necessary each year to fill food gaps in the 70 most food deficient countries. To combat this dire situation, the U.S., through the Food for Peace program and other food aid programs, provides approximately two million tons of American-grown food donations to 50 million starving people every year. U.S. food aid programs represent a unique public-private partnership, in which American farmers, U.S. mariners and faith-based private voluntary organizations responsible for implementing the programs on the ground form an unbroken chain of humanity from our fertile fields to those in need overseas. This food, delivered on ships proudly flying the U.S. flag in bags stamped “From the American People,” provides a tangible symbol of our generosity that helps generate goodwill toward our nation.
Irrespective of party affiliation or ideological persuasion, we all should agree that our willingness to help others in need is one of our country’s proudest achievements. Food aid programs represent less than one half of one percent of the federal budget, yet they impact the lives of millions of hungry people around the world every year. Unfortunately, these critical programs are in jeopardy as some policymakers are considering eliminating funding for international food aid.
Congress has already slashed funding for Food for Peace by 41% since 2009, and even more cuts have been proposed for the FY2013 budget. Unfortunately, foreign aid is always one of the first expenses on the chopping block, especially during times of domestic austerity. It is important to recognize however that unlike other foreign aid programs, our food aid donation programs also provide important economic benefits here at home for our farmers and help ensure the vitality of our U.S.-flag fleet and national defense sealift capability. A recent study by economists Promar International concluded that the transportation of food aid alone, not even considering the farm economy benefits, actually results in more than $2 billion in annual output from U.S. industries, $523 million in earnings for American households and thousands of jobs here at home.
If Congress is looking to save money in order to help the economy, then cutting to the bone a program that feeds millions while bolstering global security, our economy and our national defense sealift capacity clearly is not the best answer.
Henry is the chairman of USA Maritime