Leaders of Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called on the Senate to defeat a legislative provision which could reduce the number of U.S. food aid recipients by up to 2 million.
“According to the Administration this proposed change would increase the costs of shipping international food aid commodities by at least $75 million annually and result in at least two million people worldwide losing access to life sustaining U.S. food,” stated a May 28 letter to leading members of a Senate commerce committee.
The letter was signed by Catholic Relief Services president Dr. Carolyn Woo and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, who chairs the Committee on International Justice and Peace for the U.S. bishops’ conference.
It was addressed to Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the committee.
The letter discussed Section 318 of H.R. 4005, which mandates that the percentage of food aid to be delivered on U.S. flag-bearing ships must increase from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Woo and Bishop Pates argued that the change would hike shipping costs and result in far fewer recipients of food aid, citing Pope Francis' call to fight the “scandal of hunger” in opposing the measure.
“We know that using U.S. flagged vessels to transport international food aid is much more expensive than using vessels flagged by other nations,” they said.
Their letter cited Pope Francis' December call to end the “scandal of hunger and the irresponsible use of the world's resources,” and stated that global “food aid programs are a key component to answering the Pope's call to help the hungry and we implore you to make the best use of these resources by not increasing cargo preference requirements on them.”
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), defended the measure by saying that a strong U.S. commercial fleet is necessary for wartime and emergencies.
“The secondary reason for food aid is food. The No. 1 reason is military readiness,” he told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.
Yet Woo and Bishop Pates maintained that international aid is more important than support of the U.S. shipping industry.
“We understand that some in Congress are motivated to increase cargo preference requirements to help support the livelihoods of U.S. mariners,” the letter said. “However, increasing assistance to U.S. mariners should not come at the expense of two million hungry people.”