I had a fascinating discussion this week in New York. I was with my CEO counterparts from leading humanitarian aid organizations such as Save the Children, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam. We meet twice a year to discuss various issues related to aid. The topic of greatest concern to us this week is the cuts to the State Department and USAID budgets.
This is an important issue because it directly affects the amount of funding available to help children and families in the poorest and, often, most unstable regions of the world. But, as I’ll argue in a moment, this is about more than saving innocent lives—it’s also about preventing political unrest and violence.
First, a summary of what is being cut:
- For 2011, the overall International Affairs Budget was cut from $56.7 billion in FY2010 to $48.2 billion (a reduction of $8.5 billion or 15%).
- The total 2011 Humanitarian and Poverty Focused Accounts were cut from $17 billion in FY2010 to $15 billion (a 6% reduction).
But the truly devastating news is that for 2012, the House is considering 40% cuts to the International Affairs Budget. This would be tragic. I know that times are tough right here in our own country, but these funds build schools, tackle hunger with agricultural programs, prevent AIDS and malaria, provide health services to pregnant women and children, and bring water to the thirsty. These programs demonstrate the compassionate values of the American people to the world.
The average American is confused about what the International Affairs Budget does. A January survey of Americans by the Program for Public Consultation indicates that most Americans believe that foreign aid accounts for 21% of the total U.S. budget. It's actually less than 1% and the humanitarian, poverty-focused money is less than one half of one percent! And it includes all of the State Department, all of our ambassadors and embassies and the lion's share of our programs to assist the poorest of the poor around the world.
I was greatly concerned several weeks ago by the results of a February survey of Americans regarding their budget priorities. Conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, the survey showed that Evangelical Christians listed help for the poor around the world as their number one priority for cutting from the federal budget. I was shocked because I know that these programs save the lives of literally millions of people each year.
Good development assistance has been proven to diminish violence and instability that lead to military action later. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was blunt about this in recent remarks to the United States Global Leadership Coalition, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.” Good development assistance also builds friendships and allies with foreign countries.
New members of Congress need to hear the positive stories of what is working in U.S. foreign aid programs – how it prevents conflicts, promotes economic development, and saves lives. America’s national security depends not just on its military, but on its diplomacy and its development efforts as well.
The proposed 2012 cuts are 40%. We must let our government representatives know how important it is to support the International Affairs Budget and humanitarian assistance. Together, these accounts total only around 1% of the federal budget.
The U.S. budget deficit and caring for the poor are both moral issues. Budgets are moral documents that enshrine our deepest values as a nation. What kind of a statement does it make when we are unwilling to spend even one half of one percent of our budget to help the poorest of the poor? This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is a human issue.
Americans need to continue the conversations with their elected representatives to let them know that we care about the poor outside our borders as well as those inside. Not all budget cuts are equal. Some will mean programs will end. Others mean children will die.
The new Congress is listening and learning. Let them know how you feel about maintaining a robust International Affairs Budget. Contact your members of Congress.
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