Letter to Congress Regarding International Poverty-reducing Humanitarian and Development Assistance Programs Appropriations, April 24, 2017

Year Published
  • 2017
  • English

April 24, 2017

Senate Appropriations Committee / House Appropriations Committee
United States Senate / United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510 / 20515

Dear Senator / Representative:

As you finalize funding priorities for the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations, we write to urge you to protect international poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance programs in the FY 2017 and FY 2018 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriations.

We are concerned by the prospect of a dramatic increase in defense spending coupled with simultaneous and severe reductions to non-defense discretionary spending.  The Administration has proposed a 17% rescission in FY 2017 and a 32% cut in FY 2018 in funding for our diplomatic and development agencies. We believe these deep cuts pose a threat to the security of our nation and world, and would harm vulnerable people facing dire circumstances such as famine, war and political instability.  

In previous letters to the Committee, we laid out our specific requests and justifications for poverty-reducing humanitarian and development accounts.  Please refer to the accompanying chart for the list of sub-accounts that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) urge you to protect.  

Conflict and drought in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen have created famine-like conditions.  USCCB and CRS have asked Congress to allocate an additional $1 billion in the FY 2017 appropriations to save lives in these four countries.  The United Nations is seeking $4.4 billion by June to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.  

Related to these conflicts are the unprecedented numbers of forcibly displaced persons throughout the world.  Of these 65 million displaced persons, more than 21 million are refugees.  International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee Assistance, and Food for Peace are vital programs that save lives and foster stability in countries that host large numbers of refugees.  Longer term, sustainable development activities supported by sub-accounts, like Development Assistance, are crucial to build prosperous and peaceful communities that will resist the forces of extremism, division and conflict.

USCCB and CRS acknowledge the importance of national security, but security cannot be achieved through military means alone.  Diplomacy and development remain indispensable to preventing, mitigating and resolving conflict and instability. As Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel: "Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence" (59).

The longstanding teaching of our Church warns us that military buildups and corresponding cuts to programs for poor persons at home and abroad are unlikely to make us more secure.  We risk an "arms race."  Sadly, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council remains true today:

"[T]he arms race in which an already considerable number of countries are engaged is not a safe way to preserve a steady peace, nor is the so-called balance resulting from this race a sure and authentic peace. Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world" (Gaudium et Spes, no. 81).

U.S. diplomatic efforts to address conflicts from Syria to South Sudan and to improve governance in places like Nigeria and Central America, together with U.S. international assistance, can go a long way to manage and ameliorate the impact of migrant flows and food insecurity before many more lives are at risk. Investments in peacekeeping, the Atrocities Prevention Board, the Complex Crisis Fund and other initiatives to manage conflict and the root causes of migration are essential.

USCCB and CRS evaluate budgets in light of two moral principles: first, every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity; second, a central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects "the least of these" (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry or homeless, vulnerable or at risk, without work or in poverty, forced to flee their home or country, should come first.  

Americans have led the world in responding to the needs of vulnerable persons and communities for decades.  This legacy remains a part of our vital national interest as well as our moral obligation. Catholic Relief Services has been privileged to partner with the United States government to serve more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries last year alone. CRS can attest first-hand to the significant impact of poverty-reducing international assistance, and to the gratitude, resilience and stability it produces.  

We thank you for your leadership and service.  Once again we urge you to protect funding in Fiscal Year 2017 and 2018 appropriations for these critical, life-saving accounts.

Sincerely yours,                  

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú
Bishop of Las Cruces
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Mr. Sean Callahan
Catholic Relief Services