Letter to Congress on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations, March 17, 2017

Year Published
  • 2020
  • English

March 17, 2017

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Senator / Representative:

Year upon year, the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs subcommittee has had a bipartisan commitment to meeting our country's moral obligation to the growing humanitarian poverty reduction needs overseas. As you contemplate fiscal year 2018 appropriations for programs and activities under the Subcommittee's jurisdiction, we urge you to maintain that leadership by protecting funding for poverty-focused humanitarian and development assistance as well as by maintaining adequate levels of funding for assistance, protection, and durable solutions for those who are forcibly displaced. (See the FY 2017 chart attached for your reference.)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) evaluate budgets in accord with two critical guidelines: 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 and homeless, vulnerable and 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 immense needs of vulnerable persons and communities for decades. Privileged to serve more than 100 million people in more than 100 countries last year, Catholic Relief Services can attest first-hand to the significant impact of poverty-reducing international assistance; and to the gratitude it engenders. USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services, likewise, was privileged to work with the U.S. Departments of State, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, thirty-seven states, and numerous local communities across the country to welcome and resettle over 23,400 people through the U.S. refugee admissions program last year.

Our world is experiencing more food emergencies now than we have seen in decades, and the related phenomenon of forced displacement is at an all time high. Nearly 20 million people face starvation in the next six months, according to the UN. A famine has already been declared in South Sudan's Unity State, which could spread to other areas of the country. Large areas of Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia are on the brink of famine. The lives of as many as 1.4 million children are at "imminent risk." We appreciate the fact that Congress has increased the International Disaster Assistance account in recent years to respond to the significant needs of refugees and internally displaced persons. That same funding is now being tapped to respond to the food insecurity. We urge you not to reduce the allocations to International Disaster Assistance (IDA), Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA), nor Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA); all humanitarian accounts which are critical to responding to the 65 million displaced and hungry around the world.

The MRA account funds life-saving overseas humanitarian assistance for refugees, and facilitates the admission of some of the most vulnerable of those refugees into the United States. These programs and activities thereby support crucial allies, such as Jordan, that host large numbers of refugees. Humanitarian assistance is likewise an important strategic response to conflict, failures of governance, and forced migration. The United States' diplomatic efforts -- to address conflicts from Syria to South Sudan and to improve governance in places like Nigeria -- can go a long way to manage and ameliorate the impact of refugee 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 a critical part of these diplomatic efforts. We support efforts to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our priority programs funded through the Department of State and USAID. Moreover, we welcome ongoing partnership with the U.S. government, leveraging private money and our long-standing partnerships with local actors, especially the extensive network of Catholic institutions and organizations that enjoy the trust of local populations in many countries.

Both diplomacy and development are critical tools in America's foreign policy toolbox. Investments in water and sanitation, resilience to droughts, and education through the Development Assistance account can help to prevent humanitarian crises at a fraction of the cost. Climate change magnifies the challenges vulnerable people face overseas – like longer droughts and more intense storms. Investments in climate adaption efforts through bilateral programming and multilateral mechanisms, like the Green Climate Fund, can help to address the human impacts of these shocks. For example, over the last few years CRS and USAID have partnered to build small farmers' resilience to drought in areas of Eastern and Southern Africa. Those investments helped many communities to manage the 2016 El Nino-led drought, which has been described as the worst in a generation.

The recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks remind us that investments in life-saving global health are not only the right thing to do, but they are also an imperative to protect people at home and abroad. Small investments in health achieve major impacts. Malaria, one of the most significant killers of children under five worldwide, can be treated for $1. Long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets costing $5 per family can reduce transmission of malaria by up to 90 percent in areas of high coverage. Most neglected tropical diseases can be treated for 50 cents per person. It's hard to imagine a more impactful use of taxpayer dollars.

Again, thank you for your leadership to maintain these critical accounts in recent years. We urge you to protect this funding in Fiscal Year 2018 to protect human life and dignity, reflect our values as a nation, and defend our national security.

We leave you with the words from a Catholic colleague in South Sudan. He says of the refugees, "If they have a piece of bread, however small, they break it into as many pieces as they can and say: help yourself." He continues, "We don't just keep people alive. We bring their dignity back." As Americans, "we have big obligations and it's an opportunity to express our values in a most fundamental way. We can help and that's why we have to help."

Yours truly,

Bishop Oscar Cantu
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace

Bishop Joe Vásquez
Chair, Committee on Migration

Sean Callahan
President/CEO, Catholic Relief Services