Two prominent members of Congress from opposite coasts and political parties took the Washington Post to task for its criticism of the PL-480 “Food for Peace” Program in a published letter to the paper’s editor on May 17.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who serves on the same panel, challenged the premise of the paper’s May 13 editorial which chastised members of Congress for opposing changes in the nation’s food aid program suggested by President Obama at the expense of the U.S.-flag merchant marine and the nation’s farmers.
The pair stated, “The Post failed to discuss the important nexus linking food aid programs, the merchant marine and the overseas deployment of our military.” PL-480 “requires the federal government to retain a skilled merchant marine and commercial fleet, to provide an adequate sealift capability to support our military and to transport government-impelled cargo.”
The elected officials added, “Food aid carried on U.S.-flagged commercial vessels, pursuant to cargo preference laws, has helped alleviate hunger abroad and supported the fleet essential to sustaining our military. Without such cargoes, we risk losing the approximately 100 oceangoing vessels still sailing under the U.S. flag.”
Hunter and Cummings stressed that the Post and other opponents of PL-480 fail to grasp the importance of a viable U.S.-flag maritime industry and that “no lower-cost alternatives exist to replace this vital sealift capability.”
Given the stakes involved, the pair said a certain amount of caution is needed when looking at modifying or eliminating a program that has served America and the world successfully since 1954: “Before we make dramatic changes to our food aid programs, we should acknowledge that such changes would undercut long-standing maritime policy and have demonstrably negative impacts on the U.S.-flagged commercial fleet, U.S. seafarers, our national security and, indeed, our ability to provide reliable food aid to impoverished communities.”