Bush calls for approval of $770M in food aid

Bush urges Congress to approve $770 million in food aid, development programs
WASHINGTON And as lawmakers debate that issue, they're also hearing about concerns here at home, including the rising prices that are changing the way many Americans shop.

From meat to macaroni, many consumers who were buying steaks last year are buying pasta this year. Skyrocketing food prices are now hitting Americans right up there with high gas prices.

"It's shocking. First you're paying all this money for gas, then you go to the grocery store; it's ridiculous," said Dexter Green, consumer.

Food prices in America are increasing at the fastest pace in 17 years. Worldwide, food prices have risen 40 percent since mid-2007. Millions of people in countries such as Peru and Haiti are hungry for help.

Here in this country, outrage over soaring food prices reached the halls of Congress Thursday. A New York baker threw out some tough numbers.

"A bag of bread flour that cost us $17 in 2006 costs us $52 today," said Richard Reinwald, Reinwald's Bakery, New York.

"We buy this light wheat bread like this loaf here. We're paying almost $4," said Sen. Charles Schumer, (D) New York.

Four dollars for loaf of bread? That doesn't sit well, especially for parents with big families. As a result, they're very concerned about how to feed the family

Arnie Schwartz is a food and beverage expert with the Rosemont-based research company NPD. According to a recent study from the company, one-third of American families are now making different choices when it comes to buying food. People are making fewer trips to the store and stocking up. Coupon use is now at an all-time high. And when it comes to cooking meals, leftovers are more important.

"Trying to prepare more meals that will give them leftovers so they can get multiple meals from one meal preparation," said Schwartz.

Americans are now eating more meals at home. That makes sense because the average cost to eat out is about $6. The average cost of a meal at home is only about $2.

Bush's funding request

In a surprise midafternoon appearance at the White House, Bush announced he is asking lawmakers to approve the additional funds for global food aid and development programs. The money — to be directed primarily at needy African nations — is being included in a broader $70 billion Iraq war funding measure for 2009 that the White House sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday.

"In some of the world's poorest nations, rising prices can mean the difference between getting a daily meal and going without food," Bush said. "The American people are generous people and they're a compassionate people. We believe in the timeless truth `to whom much is given, much is expected.'"

The new money comes on top of $200 million Bush ordered released two weeks ago for emergency food aid. It also is in addition to a pending $350 million request for emergengy food aid funds. Because the new funds are part of a 2009 budget, they wouldn't be available for distribution until the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, even if they are approved sooner.

Even so, Bush called it "just the beginning" of the U.S. effort to help. He said the United States would spend a total of $5 billion this year and next on food aid and related programs.

"America's in the lead, we'll stay in the lead and we expect others to participate along with us," he said.

The new funds are aimed at meeting immediate needs with direct shipments of food aid, and the White House said they would allow for millions more people to get help. Emergency aid accounts for $620 million of the request, said Steve McMillin, deputy director of the president's Office of Management and Budget.

The funds also have long-term aims, with $150 million aimed at boosting U.S. programs to help farmers in developing countries increase productivity and make cash purchases of local crops, so communities are less in need of emergency help in the first place.

The issue has become more urgent recently because of food shortages and rising prices that, combined with high gas costs and rising home foreclosures, are putting a huge squeeze on families at home and abroad. What has been termed the first global food crisis since World War II has resulted in cries for help from United Nations officials and raised questions about how Bush will respond.

Some have blamed the food crisis in part on Bush-backed policies that push food-based biofuels such as ethanol as alternative energy sources. Bush says diverting corn and soybeans into fuel is still a smart approach, though he favors increasing funding for research into eventually using wood chips or switchgrass rather than food crops.

Quick tips to save on groceries

- Check dollar stores for chips and other nonperishable items

- Buy generic instead of brand name products

- Avoid pre-packaged goods or snack packs. Instead, make your own - that's always cheaper.

- Check the unit price. Buying in bulk isn't always cheaper. If you are buying in bulk, make sure you use what you buy or buy only non-perishables or stuff you can freeze.




WPVI-TV Philadelphia and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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