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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Federal Response to Calls for Increased Aid from USDA’s Food Assistance Programs

Joe Richardson
Specialist in Social Policy

Domestic food assistance programs typically make up a large portion of federal spending for needy households during economic downturns. The need for, participation in, and the costs of these programs—like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program)—have grown dramatically. 

In response to the recent downturn, the Administration and Congress have taken major steps to change food assistance program policies to open up program access and to increase federal funding. Most important, SNAP benefits have been increased across the board and eligibility rules have been substantially loosened. The Administration's FY2011 budget proposes to continue funding for most of these steps. 

Domestic food assistance programs overseen by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) typically make up a large portion of federal spending aimed at helping with low-income households' day-to-day needs during economic downturns. The biggest, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program), spent $53.8 billion federal dollars in FY2009.1 Other key food assistance programs—costing a total of over $20 billion in FY2009—include The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), child nutrition programs (like the school meal programs), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (the WIC program). By contrast, FY2009 federal outlays for other big programs helping lower-income households were $250 billion for Medicaid, $117 billion for Unemployment Insurance, $48 billion for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and $42 billion for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) payments. 

In 2009, the Administration and Congress took major steps to change food assistance program policies and increase federal funding available for domestic food aid in response to growing calls for assistance from those in need. These actions will continue to have significant effects over the next several years, and the Administration's FY2011 budget request envisions continued growth in federal spending on food assistance.

This report will be updated to reflect action on the FY2011 budget and significant changes in participation and spending figures. 
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Date of Report: February 17, 2010
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: R41076
Price: $29.95

U.S. Immigration Policy on Haitian Migrants

Ruth Ellen Wasem
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The environmental, social, and political conditions in Haiti have long prompted congressional interest in U.S. policy on Haitian migrants, particularly those attempting to reach the United States by boat. While some observers assert that such arrivals by Haitians are a breach in border security, others maintain that these Haitians are asylum seekers following a decades old practice of Haitians coming by boat without legal immigration documents. Migrant interdiction and mandatory detention are key components of U.S. policy toward Haitian migrants, but human rights advocates express concern that Haitians are not afforded the same treatment as other asylum seekers. 

The devastation caused by the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti has led Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States at the time of the earthquake. The scale of current humanitarian crisis—estimated thousands of Haitians dead and reported total collapse of the infrastructure in the capital city of Port au Prince—resulted in this TPS announcement on January 15, 2010. 

Secretary Napolitano also announced that Haitian children who were legally confirmed as orphans eligible for intercountry adoption by the government of Haiti and who were in the process of being adopted by U.S. residents prior to the earthquake have been given humanitarian parole to come to the United States. Other Haitian orphans potentially eligible for humanitarian parole include children who were identified by an adoption service provider or facilitator as eligible for intercountry adoption and who were matched to prospective American adoptive parents prior to January 12, 2010. 

Those Haitians who are deemed Cuban-Haitian Entrants are among the subset of foreign nationals who are eligible for federal benefits and cash assistance. Those Haitians who are newly arriving legal permanent residents, however, are barred from the major federal benefits and cash assistance for the first five years after entry. 

According to the U.S. Department of State (DOS), there are 54,716 Haitians who have approved petitions to immigrate to the United States and who are waiting for visas to become available. Advocates for Haitians are asking Secretary Napolitano to give humanitarian parole to those Haitians with approved petitions for visas. Proponents of expediting the admission of Haitians with family in the United States maintain that it would relieve at least some of the humanitarian burden in Haiti and would increase the remittances sent back to Haiti to provide critical help as the nation tries to rebuild. Those opposed to expediting the admission of Haitians assert that it would not be in the national interest, nor would it be fair to other foreign nationals waiting to reunite with their families. 

More broadly, there are concerns that the crisis conditions in Haiti may result in mass migration from the island. Agencies within DHS that are the leads in handling a potential mass migration include the U.S. Coast Guard (interdiction); Customs and Border Protection (apprehensions and inspections); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (detention and removal); and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (credible fear determinations). The balancing of DHS's border security and immigration control responsibilities in the midst of a humanitarian disaster poses a challenge. 
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Date of Report: February 1, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: RS21349
Price: $29.95

Haiti Earthquake: Crisis and Response

Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs


The largest earthquake ever recorded in Haiti devastated parts of the country, including the capital, on January 12, 2010. The quake, centered about 15 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, had a magnitude of 7.0. A series of strong aftershocks have followed. The damage is severe and catastrophic. It is estimated that 3 million people, approximately one third of the overall population, have been affected by the earthquake. The Government of Haiti is reporting an estimated 112,000 deaths and 194,000 injured. In the immediate wake of the earthquake, President Preval described conditions in his country as "unimaginable," and appealed for international assistance. As immediate needs are met and the humanitarian relief operation continues, the government is struggling to restore the institutions needed for it to function, ensure political stability, and address long-term reconstruction and development planning. 

Prior to the earthquake, the international community was providing extensive development and humanitarian assistance to Haiti. With that assistance, the Haitian government had made significant progress in recent years in many areas of its development strategy. The destruction of Haiti's nascent infrastructure and other extensive damage caused by the earthquake will set back Haiti's development significantly. Haiti's long-term development plans will need to be revised. 

The sheer scale of the relief effort in Haiti has brought together tremendous capacity and willingness to help. The massive humanitarian relief operation underway in Haiti has been hampered by a number of significant challenges, including a general lack of transportation, extremely limited communications systems, and damaged infrastructure. The relief effort is expected to last for many months, and recovery and reconstruction to begin as soon as possible. 

President Barack Obama assembled heads of U.S. agencies to begin working immediately on a coordinated response to the disaster. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is the lead agency within the U.S. government responding to this disaster. On January 14, the Administration announced $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Haiti to meet the immediate needs on the ground. The Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted the deportation of Haitians and granted Temporary Protected Status for 18 months to Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. 

Congressional concerns include budget priorities and oversight, burden-sharing, immigration, tax incentives for charitable donations, trade preferences for Haiti, and helping constituents find missing persons, speed pending adoptions, and contribute to relief efforts. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on January 28, 2010, Haiti: From Rescue to Recovery and Reconstruction

The focus of this report is on the immediate crisis in Haiti as a result of the earthquake and the U.S. and international response to date. Related legislation includes P.L. 111-117, P.L. 111-126, H.R. 144, H.R. 264, H.R. 417. H.R. 1567, H.R. 3077, H.R. 4206, H.Con.Res. 17, H.Con.Res. 165, and S. 2949. 



Date of Report: February 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 60
Order Number: R41023
Price: $29.95

Friday, February 19, 2010

CRS Issue Statement on Humanitarian Policy on Refugees and Other Populations


Chad C. Haddal, Coordinator
Analyst in Immigration Policy

The majority of humanitarian emergencies worldwide stem from natural disasters or from conflicts. Intervention results in varying amounts of relief and recovery assistance, including the placement of displaced persons. Factors that may impact decision making with respect to displaced persons include the impact of the disaster or conflict and refugee flows on stability in the region in question. Additionally, other issues may include an examination of the disparity between numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide and the available funding for these groups; physical protection of refugees and other vulnerable populations in addition to the protection of human rights; and the creation of durable solutions for displaced populations. With respect to U.S. policies on this population, the issue facing Congress is how to balance the goals of providing protection to aliens subject to persecution, maintaining homeland security, and minimizing the fraudulent use of humanitarian policies.


Date of Report: January 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 3
Order Number: IS40325
Price: $7.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail congress@pennyhill.com or call us at 301-253-0881.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

International Food Aid Programs: Background and Issues

Melissa D. Ho
Analyst in Agricultural Policy

Charles E. Hanrahan
Senior Specialist in Agricultural Policy

For over 55 years, the United States has played a leading role in global efforts to alleviate hunger and malnutrition and to enhance world food security through international food aid activities. The development and implementation of a U.S. global food security initiative, and commitments made by global leaders to support agricultural development, have increased Congress's focus on U.S. international food aid programs. The primary objectives for foreign food aid include providing emergency and humanitarian assistance in response to natural or manmade disasters, and promoting agricultural development and food security. The United States provides food aid for emergency food relief and to support development projects. 

The 2008 farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-246), authorizes through FY2012 and amends international food aid programs. These programs are primarily funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are administered either by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) or by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Federal foreign food aid is distributed primarily through five program authorities: the Food for Peace Act (P.L. 480), which includes four primary programs; Section 416(b) of the Agricultural Act of 1949; the Food for Progress Act of 1985; the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program; and the Local and Regional Procurement Pilot Project, which is a newly created pilot in the 2008 farm bill. In addition, the 2008 farm bill also reauthorizes the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust (BEHT), a reserve of commodities and cash for use in the Food for Peace programs to meet food aid needs. 

Average annual spending on international food aid programs over the past decade is approximately $2.2 billion, with Food for Peace Title II activities comprising the largest portion of the total budget (about 50%-90% of the total food aid budget annually over the past decade). In recent years, the volume of Title II emergency food aid has exceeded the amount of nonemergency or development food aid. The 2008 farm bill provides for a "safe box" for funding of non-emergency development assistance projects under Title II, which begins at $375 million in FY2009 and goes up to $450 million in FY2012, though this requirement can be waived by the Secretary of Agriculture if certain criteria are met. The 2008 farm bill also maintains funding for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program on a discretionary basis, and authorizes $60 million for a local and regional procurement pilot project to be implemented in developing countries in order to expedite the provision of food aid to vulnerable populations affected by food crises and disasters. 

Issues for Congress related to food aid include improving aid effectiveness; developing "demanddriven" strategies that take into account the recipient country's needs and strategic plans for food security; determining the best form for providing food aid and assistance, whether in the form of cash or commodities (e.g. deciding whether to allow the practice of monetization and determining how best to implement an effective local and regional procurement strategy); and determining the cost-effectiveness of U.S. cargo preferences for delivering U.S. food aid.


Date of Report: February3, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R41072
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Haiti Earthquake: Crisis and Response

Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

Maureen Taft-Morales
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The largest earthquake ever recorded in Haiti devastated parts of the country, including the capital, on January 12, 2010. The quake, centered about 15 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, had a magnitude of 7.0. A series of strong aftershocks have followed. The damage is severe and catastrophic. It is estimated that 3 million people, approximately one third of the overall population, have been affected by the earthquake. The Government of Haiti is reporting an estimated 112,000 deaths and 194,000 injured. In the immediate wake of the earthquake, President Preval described conditions in his country as "unimaginable," and appealed for international assistance. As immediate needs are met and the humanitarian relief operation continues, the government is struggling to restore the institutions needed for it to function, ensure political stability, and address long-term reconstruction and development planning. 

Prior to the earthquake, the international community was providing extensive development and humanitarian assistance to Haiti. With that assistance, the Haitian government had made significant progress in recent years in many areas of its development strategy. The destruction of Haiti's nascent infrastructure and other extensive damage caused by the earthquake will set back Haiti's development significantly. Haiti's long-term development plans will need to be revised. 

The sheer scale of the relief effort in Haiti has brought together tremendous capacity and willingness to help. The massive humanitarian relief operation underway in Haiti has been hampered by a number of significant challenges, including a general lack of transportation, extremely limited communications systems, and damaged infrastructure. The relief effort is expected to last for many months, and recovery and reconstruction to begin as soon as possible. 

President Barack Obama assembled heads of U.S. agencies to begin working immediately on a coordinated response to the disaster. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is the lead agency within the U.S. government responding to this disaster. On January 14, the Administration announced $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Haiti to meet the immediate needs on the ground. The Department of Homeland Security has temporarily halted the deportation of Haitians and granted Temporary Protected Status for 18 months to Haitian nationals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. 

Congressional concerns include budget priorities and oversight, burden-sharing, immigration, tax incentives for charitable donations, trade preferences for Haiti, and helping constituents find missing persons, speed pending adoptions, and contribute to relief efforts. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing, Haiti: From Rescue to Recovery and Reconstruction, on January 28. 

The focus of this report is on the immediate crisis in Haiti as a result of the earthquake and the U.S. and international response to date. Related legislation includes P.L. 111-117, P.L. 111-126, H.R. 144, H.R. 264, H.R. 417. H.R. 1567, H.R. 3077, H.R. 4206, H.Con.Res. 17, H.Con.Res. 165, and S. 2949. 


Date of Report: January 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 54
Order Number: R41023
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
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Charitable Contributions for Haiti’s Earthquake Victims

Molly F. Sherlock
Analyst in Economics

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. As of January 25, 2010, the death toll was estimated to exceed 150,000. The earthquake and resulting aftershocks affected approximately 3 million people and caused significant damage to buildings and infrastructure. The earthquake has left an estimated 1 million Haitians homeless. 

On January 22, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Haiti Assistance Income Tax Incentive Act (HAITI Act; P.L. 111-126). This legislation accelerates income tax benefits for charitable cash contributions for the relief of earthquake victims. Specifically, the legislation allows taxpayers making charitable contributions of cash made to organizations providing aid to earthquake victims after January 11, 2010, and before March 1, 2010, to take the associated charitable deduction on their 2009 income tax returns. The HAITI Act (H.R. 4462) was introduced in the House on January 19, 2010, and passed by a voice vote on January 20, 2010. The Senate had introduced companion legislation (S. 2936) on January 20, 2010, but passed the identical House legislation H.R. 4462 on January 21, 2010. Provisions in the HAITI Act are similar to those adopted under P.L. 109-1 following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that the HAITI Act would result in revenue losses of approximately $2 million over the 10-year budget window spanning FY2010 through FY2019. 

Under current law, charitable contributions to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations from individuals, corporations, and estates and trusts are tax deductible in the year they are made. Individuals can deduct up to 50% of their adjusted gross income (AGI), phased-out for higher income individuals. Corporations can deduct up to 10% of their taxable income. Individuals and corporations can carry forward any unclaimed charitable deductions for up to five years. Total charitable giving in 2008 was $307.65 billion. 

In the past, Congress has passed legislation to encourage charitable giving following natural disasters. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, legislation was passed that allowed taxpayers making charitable contributions to aid tsunami victims in January 2005 to take the charitable deduction on their 2004 tax return. This provision is similar to the one enacted under the HAITI Act. In September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, individual and corporate giving limits were suspended. The rules surrounding charitable contributions of food inventory and books were also relaxed to encourage in-kind giving. 

The HAITI Act, like other tax policies, can be evaluated along the dimensions of efficiency and equity. Efficiency is greatest when the policy's marginal impact, the giving induced by the program, is large relative to the policy's inframarginal impact, the benefits given to those whose behavior was not directly caused by the tax policy. Using this framework, the HAITI Act is unlikely to be economically efficient. In general, tax benefits for charitable giving do not appear to significantly increase donations. Furthermore, tax deductions violate principles of vertical equity in that the benefits of tax deductions accrue disproportionately to higher income groups and provide larger benefits to those with a greater ability to pay. 


Date of Report: January 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R41036
Price: $29.95

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