Religious groups lobbying for hunger programs were pleasantly surprised last week when President Obama signed the agriculture appropriations act. The law unexpectedly protected—and even expanded—programs aimed at reducing hunger both in the United States and around the globe.
When Congress considered spending reductions this summer, a broad coalition of religious leaders and international aid organizations mobilized to keep funding for hunger programs. Evangelical and other Christian groups formed the Circle of Protection, a coalition that lobbied the president and congressional leaders not to cut back on aid to vulnerable populations.
World Vision president Richard Stearns wrote an open letter to Congress last month, calling for the protection of humanitarian programs. "The United States' global humanitarian programs are some of the most cost-effective programs within the federal budget," Stearns said. "Together, they amount to $50 per American per year, just 14 cents per American per day. There are very few places within the federal budget where such a small amount of money can directly save so many lives."
The lobbying efforts succeeded. The final appropriations bill increased funding for aid programs above and beyond what was expected. The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) received over $6.6 billion, which is more than either the House or Senate originally approved. The bill also appropriated $177 million to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that serves low-income seniors. According to Bread for the World, both programs should have enough funds to cover their caseloads.
Foreign aid programs also fared well. InterAction, a coalition of 200 U.S.-based international aid groups offered recommended levels of spending for international programs. Congress met or exceeded these recommendations for many programs. InterAction recommended $1.3 billion for emergency food assistance. Congress decided on nearly $1.5 billion, in part because of the growing need for humanitarian aid for those in drought-stricken areas in Africa.
InterAction also recommended that the United States spend $200 million on the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides school children in the world's poorest nations with at least one meal. The bill provides $184 million for the program.
Bread for the World president David Beckmann said the appropriations bill is a significant victory but not the end of the battle for foreign aid.
"Although cuts to programs vital to hungry and poor people in the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill were not nearly as severe as originally proposed, the battle isn't over," Beckmann said.
Final passage of the appropriations bill was a rare show of bipartisanship in Congress. In the Senate, the vote was 70-30. All of the opposition came from Republicans while 17 GOP Senators voted for passage. In the House, the vote was 298-120. Opposition came from a coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Republicans in both chambers voted against the bill because of concerns about deficits and because they had promised to not pass so-called omnibus spending bills. Some opposed school lunch policies and the lack of regulation for agricultural commodities futures markets. Few (if any) voiced opposition to the spending for hunger programs.