Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Catholic Relief Services Hoping for More Aid

ZE07103007 - 2007-10-30

Catholic Relief Services Hoping for More Aid

Group Says It Needs More U.S. Funding to Get Food to Starving

BALTIMORE, Maryland, OCT. 30, 2007 ( Noting Benedict XVI's affirmation that "food is a universal right" for all people, Catholic Relief Services says it needs more support from Congress to reach its goals.

Less than two weeks after World Food Day, when the Pope echoed the U.N. affirmation that food is a right, the U.S.-based charity organization is not sure it can keep its aid programs above water.

A sharp rise in the prices of commodities such as wheat, corn and soybean oil -- in addition to the rising costs for shipping and freight -- has forced the international development agency to press for increased funding from Congress.

Without additional funding, the organization said it might face a massive shortfall in its budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which could force it to abandon more than 800,000 impoverished people who are dependent on its food aid programs.

Spokesperson John Rivera says the situation is very serious, because once funding is delayed and a program is stopped, it becomes difficult to start up again.

Contingency plans

U.S. law stipulates that 75% of food aid resources should go to programs that relieve chronic hunger, however only 25% has been delivered in recent years, with most of it having been used for emergencies.

Catholic Relief Services argues that while it is obviously necessary to respond to emergencies, the efforts should not undermine long-term programs that help millions of people feed themselves and their families.

"Basically we're doing a lot of lobbying on Congress; the big audience we need are congressional representatives," Rivera explained. "We have staff on the hill that are constantly communicating with the staffs of key Congress people and members of the Senate, and it's a matter of getting them to increase funding for the food aid in a particular program called Food For Peace."

The Catholic organization anticipates it will require several hundred million dollars in order to maintain its programs at the same level it provided in the 2006 fiscal year.

Regarding the Food For Peace program, Rivera says "the U.S. government funds to the tune of about $1.2 billion per year and we're thinking they're going to have to increase that by between $100-300 million, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of the U.S. budget, but it is still a lot of money."

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