President George W. Bush wants America to spend a further $770 million (NZ$990 million) to help alleviate dramatically escalating food prices that threaten widespread hunger and increasing social unrest around the world.
The appeal to Congress takes the total in emergency food funding close to $1 billion.
In a surprise appearance at the White House, Bush announced he was asking lawmakers to approve the additional funds for global food aid and development programmes.
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 Congress.
"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 is in addition to a pending $350 million request for emergency food aid. Because the new funds are part of a 2009 budget, they will not be available for distribution until the start of the fiscal year on October 1, even if they are approved sooner.
Even so, Bush called it "just the beginning" of the US effort to help. He said the United States would spend a total of $5 billion this year and next on food aid and related programmes. "America's in the lead, we'll stay in the lead and we expect others to participate along with us," he said.
The money is aimed at meeting immediate needs with direct shipments of food aid, and the White House said it would allow for millions more people to get help. Emergency aid accounted for US$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 US programmes to help farmers in developing countries increase productivity and buy local crops, so communities are less in need of emergency help in the first place.
The issue has become more urgent 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 favours increasing funding for research into eventually using wood chips or switchgrass rather than food crops. His chief economic adviser, Edward Lazear, said ethanol made from corn was responsible for just 2 to 3 per cent of the overall increase in global food prices, which are 43 per cent up this year over last year.
The announcement drew praise from several quarters.
"Millions of people around the world may be saved from starvation if we can quickly move forward with the president's request," said Democrat Senator Dick Durbin. "Global aid is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart and safe thing to do.
The United States is the world's largest provider of food aid, delivering more than $2.1 billion to 78 developing countries last year.
If they took the money for war and fed people everyone would have food. But Bush wants to continue the wars for his friends to make profit. He obviously really doesn't care about the hungry or more money would be allocated to the hungry. Comparatively speaking. Do the math. Feed the hungry or fund his war which is it. Pass his bill