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The PL-480 “Food for Peace” Program serves critically important U.S. interests and should be maintained.

That was the message delivered by Navy League of the United States Executive Director Bruce K. Butler in a letter to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate:  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Representing 47,000 members committed to preserving America’s sea services, including the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine, the Navy League stressed that eliminating the Food for Peace program “would put at risk 44,000 American jobs in the merchant marine and farming communities.”

“Of chief importance to the Navy League,” wrote Butler, “the proposed elimination of this important program will significantly undermine the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine and our national defense sealift capability.”

Stressing that “more than 95 percent of surge and sustainment cargoes to support the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past decade were carried on U.S.-flag commercial and government ships, all of which were crewed by civilian U.S. citizen merchant mariners,” Butler urged that any proposal to eliminate funding for the PL-480 program be rejected.

Noting that the “public-private public partnership” between the Department of Defense and the maritime industry “ensure(s) the trusted and reliable transportation of critical cargo anywhere in the world at any time,” Butler observed that much of the world’s sealift sources are shifting to interests that are inherently hostile to U.S. interests. He pointed out a Lloyd’s report that within 20 years, China will own more than one-third of the world’s shipping tonnage.

Moreover, by helping to preserve a viable U.S.-flag commercial fleet, PL-480 “achieves significant savings,” especially since the U.S. government does not have “to replicate those 100 commercial ships in international trade and 11,500 mariners with federal assets.” Butler cited estimates that recreating “the capacity it obtains from the U.S.-flag commercial industry” would cost the Department of Defense “an additional $9 billion in capital costs and $1 billion in annual operating costs.”

He added last year’s one-third program cut within the transportation bill has resulted “in the loss of at least four U.S.-flag vessels and more than 200 mariner jobs.”

“The Navy League strongly recommends rejecting the proposed changes and upholding the current structure of PL-480 to retain the ships and jobs necessary to maintain our U.S. merchant mariner pool,” concluded Butler.