Federal budget proposal draws criticism for slashing foreign aid

Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2019 / 12:36 am (CNA).- A Catholic aid agency is asking Congress to maintain its commitment to international humanitarian funding, after the Trump administration proposed a federal budget that would cut foreign aid by 24 percent.

In a March 12 statement, Catholic Relief Services warned that the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “would undermine dramatic progress in global poverty reduction over the past two decades, disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized people.”

The budget proposal, released earlier this week, would cut foreign aid by nearly one-quarter, and would combine current departments for international food aid, disaster response, and migrant and refugee assistance.

Given drastic humanitarian crises currently ongoing throughout the world, the U.S. should be increasing, not decreasing, its funding for international aid, a top CRS official told a recent congressional subcommittee.

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission, mobilization, and advocacy, told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs that violence, droughts and other disasters have left millions vulnerable and in need of aid.

“U.S. foreign assistance is a moral and practical imperative. Poverty not only causes unnecessary suffering, but also breeds instability. Aid empowers local leadership, builds local capacity and supports a community on its journey to self-reliance,” O’Keefe said.

The United States should be maintaining a leadership role in offering humanitarian aid, especially for the more than 68 million people displaced from their homes globally, he told the members of Congress on the subcommittee.

O’Keefe specifically called for U.S. money to be allocated for development aid, disaster response, migrant and refugee assistance, and disease eradication.

Catholic Relief Services highlighted the situation in Venezuela, where 3 million people have fled as extreme shortages of food, medicine, and water are compounded by political unrest.

In addition, the agency said, millions in the Horn of Africa are experiencing drought conditions that are expected to create widespread conditions of severe hunger this year, with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicting up to 30 percent crop failure in some areas.

Matt Davis, CRS regional director for East Africa, said the agency is “very concerned by the deteriorating conditions in the region where we are seeing families – whose lives rely on the land – unable to cope.”

He warned against changes to U.S. funding that “could abandon millions of families around the world just when they need help the most.”

Most families in the Horn of Africa are small-holder farmers, and “much of the livestock – which many families depend on for a living – has already died off, been sold, or eaten,” Catholic Relief Services said.

“In South Sudan, 7.7 million people – more than half the population – will need food assistance by August. That crisis has been caused by both conflict and drought,” the agency added.

Humanitarian aid is currently being offered to alleviate the situation in parts of the Horn of Africa, Davis explained, but more help is necessary.

CRS works with local groups to help the communities in the region prepare for droughts, as well as to increase their resistance against drought through new technology, micro-savings programs and education on nutrition and health.

The agency counts on U.S. foreign aid funding for these efforts, as well as emergency food distribution in times of crisis.

Similar foreign aid cuts were proposed by the Trump administration last year, but rejected by Congress. Catholic Relief Services asked Congress to again reiterate its commitment to foreign aid funding.

“Helping the poor is a moral imperative, and a wise investment in global stability,” Davis said.

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