U.S. Budget Cuts for Aid Programs Are a False Economy

The following was originally published in the Huffington Post by Project HOPE CEO, Thomas Kenyon M.D., M.P.H.

Quite simply, America is the linchpin of the system of global health development and humanitarian assistance.

But the recent release of the White House’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget blueprint unveiled stark cuts to foreign aid which, if implemented, would risk endangering the health and well-being of millions of people around the world as well as our nation’s historic role as a lifeline to those in need. And since instability and deprivation are also threats to U.S. national security, it would be in America’s interest for Congress to mitigate the budget reductions for USAID and State Department programs, and to safeguard the U.S. government’s role in humanitarian assistance and development of life-saving health programs.

The proposed budget cuts of about one third for State and USAID will put the lives of vulnerable people in peril, increase poverty and undermine America’s prestige in the world. We should remember, for instance, that millions of people are alive today because of U.S.-provided anti-retroviral drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS and five million children still draw breath owing to treatment funded by the U.S. taxpayer for diarrhea and pneumonia. Not only is this the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, but it provides an incalculable fund of goodwill towards the United States.

Foreign assistance accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget but saves millions of lives every year. USAID provides assistance to tens of millions affected by natural disasters, drought and conflict and responds to the needs of people facing severe hunger and famine. Each year the United Nations, which receives U.S. funds, provides food to 80 million people in 80 countries, vaccinates millions of children and assists those displaced by conflict and instability.

I witnessed firsthand the lifesaving power that the U.S. has had during my career at the U.S. Centers and Disease Control and Prevention, serving as the Director of the Center for Global Health and as Country Director in several African nations. Slashing funds available for U.S. and local health organizations that are active abroad will risk degrading local health systems that will be vital to fighting the next major outbreak of contagious diseases that can spread across the world like Ebola did. We need these partnerships with partner nations during epidemics to help protect Americans. As the UN warns of potentially the biggest humanitarian crisis in its history – with 20 million people in need of urgent food aid in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Northeastern Nigeria, these sweeping budget cuts are clearly the wrong move at the wrong time.

NGOs like Project HOPE are well aware of the pressures on the public purse, but hope that the administration will consider the broader implications of U.S. foreign assistance programs.

Those of us who work in the international development sector note that cutting USAID budgets will not measurably improve the nation’s fiscal picture. U.S. foreign aid amounts to less than one percent of the overall federal budget. The Pentagon’s top brass, while welcoming their budget hike has warned however that diplomatic and humanitarian engagement are some of the most important tools in projecting US power to expand stability abroad.

Aid programs should not just be seen as a giveaway but as a vital plank of any strategy to keep America safe. We know for instance that global threats like extremism, bio-terrorism and public health emergencies like Ebola can be fostered in conditions of poverty and deprivation.

The United States can continue its global leadership - and preserve its own national interests - with a continued budget of $60 billion across all accounts. (Published in The Huffington Post, March 29, 2017)