Democrats are pushing to boost global food aid to $5 billion in an emergency Ukraine assistance package, and Senator Chris Coons, a key lawmaker on foreign aid issues, said he is “optimistic” Congress will pass it.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is cutting supplies of grain and cooking oil from a region known as one of the world’s breadbaskets, driving up the cost of agricultural commodities around the world and especially hitting countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia that rely heavily on food imports from Ukraine and Russia.
“We have to pay attention to a global wave of hunger that is destabilizing countries and then creating problems in some very important parts of the world,” Coons said in an interview.
There have already been food riots in several nations hit by the food price spike and without action the U.S. risks upheaval in countries such as Lebanon, he said.
Coons, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for foreign aid, said he has received broad support from colleagues for the increase in food aid.
He added that House leaders support the amount and it is his “understanding” that it is acceptable to top Senate Republicans do as well, though he hasn’t directly discussed the matter with Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He said his Republican counterpart on the subcommittee, Senator Lindsey Graham, has been a “terrific partner” in building support for more food aid in the package.
South Dakota’s John Thune, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said however that the question of boosting food aid hasn’t been settled.
“There is an argument to be made on the impact it is going to have on food shortages particularly on the continent of Africa,” he said. “I think it’s a point that is probably still being negotiated.”
Coons said a $5 billion U.S. global food aid increase would amount to about half the global shortfall in assistance generated by disruptions from the war in Ukraine. David Beasley, executive director of the UN’s World Food Programme, has said his agency has a $10 billion funding deficit this year because of rising food and fuel prices. Beasley will testify before Coons’s panel on Wednesday.
Democrats have drafted a $39.8 billion Ukraine aid package, an increase from the $33 billion Biden requested, and hope to vote on it this week. The draft would add $3.4 billion each in humanitarian and military assistance. Coons said there is “some resistance” to exceeding $40 billion in the aid package. Senate Republicans have not yet formally signed off on the Democrats’ offer.
Coons and Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst have also co-sponsored legislation to drop a requirement that half of U.S. food aid be shipped on American-flagged vessels in order to speed transit. That legislation is being pursued separately from the emergency aid package, a Coons spokesman said.
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