WASHINGTON — US international food assistance capacity was given a tremendous boost when President Joe Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act on March 12. The act authorized the appropriation of $800 million in additional funds to be used to purchase and donate abroad US agricultural commodities under PL 480 Title II, known as the Food for Peace program, the principal vehicle for the United States to provide in-kind food assistance used to address hunger emergencies in poor developing countries, where COVID-19 has been exacting a brutal and expanding toll.

The $800 million in funding provided for Food for Peace for fiscal 2021 under the American Rescue Plan Act was in addition to the $1.74 billion approved earlier under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. This brought the total US commitment for in-kind international food assistance through Food for Peace to $2.54 billion.

By comparison, funding for Food for Peace totaled $1.725 billion in fiscal year 2020, and actual spending by the program in fiscal year 2019 was $1.716 billion.

US farm and food industry organizations, including the North American Millers’ Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, had urged Congress and the Biden administration to increase funding for Food for Peace to address an unrolling hunger catastrophe in the poorest nations.

NAMA and the AFBF were joined by 38 other farm and food industry associations as cosigners of a Jan. 25 letter to leaders of the Senate and House appropriations committees urging that Congress include a significant increase in funding for international food assistance as part of the American Rescue Plan act.

The letter stated, in part, “The United States and the world are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis, compounding already elevated levels of famine due to natural disasters and human conflict, is impacting the lives of millions of children, women and men around the world and their ability to access foods.”

The co-signers asserted, “Now is the time for the United States to show global leadership in response to ‘the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.’ The American farmers, fishermen an US food supply chain are committed to provide these critical products to the most vulnerable across the world.”