Letter to Congress Regarding State, Foreign Operations Appropriations October 27, 2016

Year Published
  • 2016
  • English

October 27, 2016

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

Dear Senator/Representative:

As you work to finalize the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017, we ask you to consider the following requests that seek to ensure ongoing U.S. leadership to help those living in situations of poverty, violence, and marginalization.  We recognize the budget pressures Congress faces, and appreciate the efforts you have made to protect poor and vulnerable people and communities around the world.  U.S. development and humanitarian aid is an investment in both people and peace.

In particular, Congress' consistent support of robust humanitarian funding in recent years is commendable.  We urge you to appropriate the House amount of $2.794 billion for International Disaster Assistance funding.  The needs have never been greater: the Syrian refugee crisis, the ongoing liberation of Mosul, the Zika outbreak, Hurricane Matthew and the continuing impacts of 2015-16 El Niño, to name a few. The UN Humanitarian appeals call for $21.7 billion in lifesaving assistance in 2016, but, as of August 31, only 39 percent of this need has been met. This is on top of the 2015 appeal that recorded the largest funding gap ever of $10.2 billion.

We also ask that humanitarian funding increases not come at the expense of Development Assistance and encourage Congress to agree on the Senate amount of $2.959 billion.  The Development Assistance account underwrites key resilience building programs that help the poor become more self-reliant and better able to withstand emergency conditions.  A key example of this resilience building are activities of Feed the Future, which will be subsumed under the new strategy called for within the recently passed Global Food Security Act.  

The Committee's increased funding for the Northern Triangle of Central America in Fiscal Year 2016 was a critical investment to address the root causes of so much of the violence there: social exclusion; poor governance; and lack of economic opportunity.  We urge you to appropriate another $750 million as stipulated in the House bill for Fiscal Year 2017.  Catholic Relief Services has led many programs in the region that have had a positive impact to change lives and provide opportunities; scaling them up is exactly what is needed now.  To that end, we hope you will press USAID and the Department of State to ensure that the rush to spend down funds does not lead them to use contracts over cooperative agreements when such mechanisms are not otherwise warranted.  Faith-based institutions are trusted and rooted in local communities; they are well placed for long term development strategies.

Every year, 5.9 million children die worldwide from preventable disease and malnutrition. We are grateful that Congress has been a long-time leader in addressing this suffering.  Robust funding for Maternal and Child Health expands access to life-saving interventions for some of the most marginalized populations on the planet; we urge you to support the House bill's funding level of $997 million.

Worldwide, over 13.4 million children have lost one or both parents due to AIDS. Millions more children are increasingly vulnerable because their families suffer from the social and economic effects of living in high HIV prevalence communities. PEPFAR is the world's largest donor in this arena, responding to the needs of 5.5 million orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) affected by HIV and AIDS. We appreciate that the Senate report reiterates the Congressional mandate requiring 10 percent of HIV and AIDS funding be directed to programs for orphans and vulnerable children. Any shift in PEPFAR funding and programming guidance regarding OVC would adversely affect the millions of vulnerable children our nation has committed to serve. Although we have principled concerns about those PEPFAR prevention activities we find inconsistent with Catholic teaching and do not implement or advocate for these activities, we support PEPFAR's overall lifesaving mission.

USCCB/CRS appreciate Congress' ongoing and robust commitments to combat human trafficking, a particular priority of Pope Francis. We also welcome the funding for the Atrocities Prevention Board established in both bills this year.

Pope Francis reminds us that "among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us" Accordingly, we are very concerned that the Senate bill prohibits common sense restrictions on U.S. funds going to international organizations that provide and lobby for abortion. The House bill includes these prohibitions that respect life and should be enacted into law. In addition, the House bill puts money towards the health needs of women and children and not towards family planning and keeps it from the UNFPA, which has been implicated in China's coercive family planning programs.

Finally, our world is experiencing more frequent droughts, severe storms and floods, rising sea levels and other climactic shocks that are impacting agricultural yields of small farmers, expanding the geographic scope of disease, and exacerbating migration. These shocks impact developing countries disproportionately and they need help to adapt to these changes. We urge you to heed Pope Francis' call to a renewed and authentic stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us by supporting the Senate bill's funding of the Green Climate Fund, which provides multilateral funding for climate adaptation programming.

The above international assistance priorities do not exhaust all of the Church's concerns in the appropriations process.  Other Conference committee and Catholic organizations will be highlighting other areas of appropriations.  But we thank you again for your commendable leadership on the life-saving and life-transforming programs that make up U.S. international assistance as outlined in the accompanying chart.  

Sincerely yours,

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

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
Catholic Relief Services