WASHINGTON — How can the world's hungriest schoolchildren be denied meals while the farm bill being debated in a House-Senate conference provides millions in subsidies for wealthy farmers? That's what Congress proposes. In all fairness, it should not become law.
We are puzzled that Congress wants to increase overall farm bill spending by billions of dollars yet reduce by more than 90 percent the mandatory funding to feed hungry children. The program at issue saves lives and has a proven ability to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness in poor countries.
We are not expressing disagreement because the program, supported by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, bears our names. We believe, simply put, that a costly humanitarian mistake would be made. Funding for the program would go from $840-million over five years to $60-million this coming year. After that, there would be no guarantee of funding at all. The $840-million in funding represents less than 1 percent of the proposed spending in the farm bill. At a time when increasingly high food prices are pushing millions of families around the globe deeper into poverty, we must step up, not reduce, our efforts to feed hungry schoolchildren.
For just a few cents a day per child, the McGovern-Dole Program has made a critical difference in the lives of children and communities worldwide, promoted American values in the most positive terms, and helped achieve U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. By providing meals to children who attend school in the poorest countries, the program increases attendance rates and student productivity and gives hope to a new generation of impoverished children around the world.
As a nation, we must not retreat from the compassion we've shown when the world's poorest children needed us most. We respectfully ask farm bill conferees to restore the $840-million in mandatory funding for the McGovern-Dole Program. Our nation must not turn its back on the world's poorest.
As former senators, we both know how difficult it is to pass sound farm legislation. We also know, as does every member of Congress, how important it is to help the world's neediest and most vulnerable children. We believe that a vast majority of the proposed farm bill beneficiaries share our view. Americans care and will respond positively if this needed change is made.
George McGovern, a Democrat, was appointed a U.N. global ambassador on world hunger in 2001. Bob Dole, a Republican, is a former Senate majority leader.