The proposed budget cuts would slash programs that provide meals to hungry children abroad.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated June 08, 2017
Credit: FRED DUFOUR / Stringer / Getty Images

Cutting foreign food aid might seem like a simple way to put “America first,” but as many of those testifying before a House agricultural panel pointed out yesterday, the notion that a Trump administration plan to ax two longstanding aid programs will be beneficial to the US may not be so cut and dry.

Among the many cuts President Trump’s spending plan proposes, two food aid programs would see their funding eliminated entirely: the Food for Peace program, originally launched in 1954 under President Dwight Eisenhower, and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, implemented in 2003 while President George W. Bush was in office. Though the programs cost about $1.9 billion annually, many have questioned whether those “savings” would actually do more damage than good.

One of the most compelling arguments came from Trump’s own party. The chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican, pointed out that, counterintuitively, foreign food aid actually fuels the economy back home. “International food aid programs not only contribute jobs in the US agricultural sector, but also create American jobs in the manufacturing and maritime sectors,” Conaway said yesterday according to the Huffington Post. “Eliminating such programs seems contrary to the role they play in a robust ‘America-first’ policy.”

Meanwhile, Democratic members of the House spoke to other concerns. Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California worried about the implications of reducing the country’s role internationally. “When we don’t lead, that vacuum is filled,” he said. And Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio argued for the pure humanity of the programs. “Of all the things we could cut, we would cut food,” she said. “We have become complicit, or will become complicit, in the starvation of hungry women and children.”

Even former senator, Republican presidential candidate and program namesake Bob Dole ardently defended the McGovern-Dole program earlier this year, pointing out how it has provided food to more than 40 million children. “Eliminating the McGovern-Dole program would have a disastrous effect on the planet’s most vulnerable children,” Dole told The Washington Post in March. “Without a reliable source of nutrition, these children face a lifetime of stunted physical and mental development and unrealized opportunity. This global school meals program remains one of the proudest achievements of my lifetime. It embodies the very best of America’s values. Saving this program means saving lives. It’s as simple as that.”

Still, the fates of the programs are up in the air. The Farm Bill doesn’t expire until September of next year, and the House agricultural committee is only in the beginning stages of reviewing the programs before beginning work writing the new bill.