Lawmakers are slated to send more than $5 billion to combat global food insecurity as part of the nearly $40 billion emergency Ukrainian aid bill passed by the House on Tuesday.
Russian aggression in Ukraine has drastically curtailed food exports from the country, which is the world’s largest producer of wheat and an essential supplier of corn and other grains, sending prices skyrocketing and threatening food insecurity and famine for many already vulnerable parts of the developing world.
The top-line figure is a significant increase from the Biden administration’s initial proposal, yet some global aid groups say it is the minimum needed to help address food and nutrition assistance.
Although 57 Republicans in the House voted against the bill over cost concerns, it is expected to move quickly through the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk for his signature. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that he was hopeful it could pass the Senate this week.
Lawmakers have sold the billions in aid as not only a moral obligation but also a matter of national security. Graham said at the hearing food insecurity is a main driver of mass migration and recruiting for religious extremists.
“If you believe in a strong national security to keep America safe then you have to be involved in world hunger,” Graham said. “The ability of terrorists to recruit and sell their cause goes up exponentially as people are look for a way to feed their families.”
Ports on the Black Sea have been blocked for months, stranding millions of tons of grain in Ukraine, which produced enough resources to feed more than 400 million people annually before the war, according to the United Nations (U.N.).
The halt to exports and price increases have exacerbated food shortages in areas of the Middle East, Africa and Central America, potentially sending 47 million more people into acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), the food assistance branch of the U.N.
The House bill includes $5.26 billion in total food security funding, including $4.35 billion for USAID to distribute to countries facing food insecurity because of the war, $760 million through the Economic Support Fund for global good insecurity, and $150 million for the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program to help countries, including Ukraine, deal with rising food prices.
Leaders of world hunger organizations who testified at Wednesday’s hearing said the money in the aid package should help get immediate relief to people in need while also building long-term food and farming infrastructure that insulates them from future global shocks.
“[Ukraine] is the breadbasket of the world,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley at the hearing. “That’s gone. The ripple effect of that around the world, 26 nations alone depend on 50 percent or more of their grain from that region.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the House Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, said food insecurity issues have been compounded by a globally worsening coronavirus pandemic.
“This pandemic is far from over with us,” Coons said. “We are no less vulnerable to this pandemic today, from a global perspective, than we were a year ago.”
Lawmakers are moving to send aid for international food insecurity as domestic consumers continue to feel the effects of inflation at home. Grocery prices are up 9.7 percent over last April, according to economic figures released Wednesday.
Biden announced plans Wednesday to boost production from U.S. farms to help address global food insecurity during a trip to Illinois.