Development aid in danger of losing to bombast and bombs

A leaked State Department document suggests that the Trump administration is planning to cut foreign aid by a stunning 30.8 percent. Additionally, the document suggests that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programs would be curtailed and, according to this report in Foreign Policy, essentially folded into programs run by the State Department.

Politifact and others have shown that the American people are "clueless" about foreign aid, thinking the U.S. government spends as much a quarter or a third of all federal spending on foreign aid. They think it should be about 5 percent or maybe 10. The U.S. government actually spends less than 1 percent on non-military foreign aid. Development aid has traditionally enjoyed widespread bipartisan support, but the American electorate indicated what they thought of tradition last November.

The proposed cuts would be popular with President Donald Trump's base. I am sure Steve Bannon would approve the cuts. But such cuts are both unjust and stupid. And they would hit Catholic Relief Services and the people it serves especially hard.


Lindsay Coates, president of InterAction, the largest alliance of international nongovernmental organizations working on humanitarian and development aid, echoes this concern. "You can think of foreign assistance as bolstering U.S. strategic interests," she told NCR. "The problem is when you define U.S. strategic interests narrowly, in an exclusively military sense."

She added, "Support of democracy, support of entrepreneurship, and support of public institutions — these further U.S. interests in their broadest sense."

Coates thinks that development aid is essential to the conduct of foreign policy. "U.S. leadership requires a kind of dance between long-term and short-term demands. Part of the magic of foreign aid is that it can dance along that line," she explained.

"There are three kinds of categories of problems that foreign aid addresses, that highlight this balance between long- and short-term challenges: political instability, economic underdevelopment and health epidemics or crises. These are often interrelated, with economic underdevelopment leading to a political crisis, or vice versa, or a health crisis, like the Ebola epidemic, affecting both political and economic stability. The U.S. government has to work across multiple dimensions."

Americans are generous when there is some natural disaster that befalls another country, but only long-term assistance can lay the groundwork for stable societies and, indeed, be put to immediate use when there is a tragedy. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in November 2013, CRS already had hundreds of staffers on the ground. And, in many countries, religious aid agencies rely not only on funding from USAID but from the infrastructure and networks that USAID has on the ground, and vice versa.

Coates points to the various ways religious groups work with labor groups and with government agencies to help people throughout the world as an inspiration to her work, but also as a key political asset as the fight over funding heats up.

"I am going to fight as hard as I can to sustain and enhance U.S. engagement with the world through development and anti-poverty programs," she said. "There is a strong, vibrant constituency for this work. There are 'servant leaders' in this country who are committed to this work, the good people at CRS and the Solidarity Centers among them. It makes me believe we won't give up. We can't give up."

Read the full article at National Catholic Reporter