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Food or Cash or Vouchers? New report on U.S. food assistance monitoring and evaluation suggests “All of the above”

In this special blog Jenny Coneff, CaLP's North America Focal Point, reflects on the main findings of the GAO report.

7 October 2016 — By Jenny Coneff

Did you know that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its long-awaited report on monitoring and evaluation of cash and voucher programs under the Emergency Food Security Program (EFSP) of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace’s (FFP) on September 20, 2016?

The GAO report reinforced the well-established fact that cash-based programming (which includes electronic and non-electronic transfers of cash and vouchers) is a successful way to meet food needs for people in emergencies. According to the report, the use of cash transfers, vouchers, and gifts of food can all lead to improvements in food access for people in need. This supports the claim that responses cannot be generalized; rather, context determines which response option is likely to be cheapest, fastest, and most effective. Emergency response funds and implementers, therefore, need to be prepared for all options!

The report notes that, while monitoring standards and processes of the cash and voucher projects assessed was very good, there were some opportunities for partners to improve, particularly with respect to evaluating the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of programs. Stronger monitoring and evaluation has the potential to inform decisions about making all assistance more efficient and effective.

USAID’s and CaLP’s plans for the remainder of this year already take these issues into account. Food for Peace anticipates the imminent release of its fiscal year 2017 Annual Program Statement (APS), which provides guidance for its EFSP programming. The new guidance is expected to have stronger requirements for response option choice justification (i.e. cash, voucher, or in-kind assistance) and clearer monitoring indicators for effectiveness and timeliness.

USAID celebrated in July the authorization of the EFSP as a permanent program under the much-acclaimed Global Food Security Act (GFSA). The successes of the broadly-supported EFSP, as well as of other, similar U.S. government-funded emergency programs allowing cash, vouchers, and locally- or regionally-procured in-kind assistance, should be expanded as a means of ensuring the most appropriate and efficient response to people facing crisis.

CaLP welcomes these findings as an opportunity to increase appropriate cash and voucher programming. We plan to support the release of the EFSP guidance through a series of country-level trainings in response options analysis. The trainings are expected to support evidence-based decision-making and evaluation regarding cash, voucher, and in-kind programming in priority countries. As a result of this work, more people in crisis will be able to receive assistance appropriate to their needs.

 

Main image: Kimlong Meng – Oxfam Novib