Letter to Congressional Foreign Operations Conferees on Foreign Aid, July 24, 2000

Year Published
  • 2014
  • English

July 24, 2000

Dear Conferee:

The funding levels for foreign operations approved by the Senate and the House are extremely disappointing.

The amounts appropriated under these bills, if enacted into law, would continue a disturbing trend by Congress in recent years to underfund many of our nation's foreign assistance programs for humanitarian aid and sustainable development. Allocations for poor country debt relief, for refugees and other displaced persons, for HIV/AIDS orphans, for peacekeeping operations, and for the International Development Association, the World Bank's concessional lending arm, are all seriously deficient. The Senate has failed to retain the modified Mexico City policy adopted by Congress last year. It has also voted to eliminate the Inter-American Foundation, which serves the poorest of the poor. Surely the world's wealthiest nation, which is enjoying an unprecedented period of prosperity, can do more to aid the poor and vulnerable beyond our borders.

Debt Relief
I am particularly disturbed by the woefully inadequate allocation for poor country debt relief. Last year's legislation supporting the new, more generous debt relief program agreed at the Cologne Summit gave promise of a Jubilee Year 2000 that would bring new hope to millions of impoverished children, women and men around the world.

The Senate has approved only $75 M for debt relief; the $225 M approved by the House is welcome but is much less than the $435 M requested by the Clinton administration to meet the U.S. commitment under the Cologne initiative through FY2001.

As other creditors are looking to the United States for leadership, our failure to meet our Cologne commitment may lead other creditor countries to back out of theirs. This would end all hope of meaningful debt relief in this Jubilee Year. It would leave many of the world's poorest countries unable to undertake investments in education, health care and other economic and social needs which are essential to making a real difference in the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

Refugee Protection
I am troubled as well by the very poor response to the needs of the world's refugees and displaced people. At a time when the number of uprooted people worldwide is estimated at 35 million, an increase of five million in the last year alone, the Administration's request of $658 M for the Migration and Refugee Assistance account was already inadequate. The Senate voted to provide only $615 M. The House, to its credit, approved $645 M, but that is still insufficient to meet the need.

These funding levels would necessitate deep cuts to refugees in every area of the world, including Africa, where increases are most desperately needed. They would also cause our FY2001 refugee admissions to drop well below the 76,000 which the Administration's request would fund and which would itself represent a 46% decrease from refugee admissions funded in FY1992. We urge an MRA appropriation of $700 M to accommodate up to 100,000 refugee admissions and provide for a modest increase in funding for overseas assistance over the Administration's request.

In addition, we strongly support language in the Senate bill that would permit the small number of Public Interest Parolees who fled their countries following the Vietnam War to adjust their status to that of lawful permanent residents. This unfinished business from our involvement in Vietnam would permit these loyal friends to go on with their lives as full participants in our society.

Mexico City Policy and United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA)
I applaud the House's decision to retain the modified Mexico City policy adopted by Congress last year. This policy ensures that nongovernmental organizations that actively lobby to overturn other nations' abortion laws or which violate those laws will not receive U.S. funding. Regrettably, however, the modified Mexico City Policy was omitted from the Senate bill, opening up once again an issue which we had hoped was resolved by the Congressional action last year.

The decision to earmark funding for UNFPA. is disappointing. While we strongly support funding for the United Nations, we oppose any earmarking of funds for the UNFPA so long as it maintains its long-standing support for the Chinese government's coercive abortion and sterilization policy.

HIV/AIDS Orphans
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is of such a scale and threat to development and stability that a concerted, comprehensive response by our government and the international community is urgently needed. Those who suffer from HIV/AIDS in developing countries often find few places to go for help. In 40 countries, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provides health care, education, and support for orphans in community-based settings. Not only do the Senate and House bills fail to allocate adequate funds for HIV/AIDS orphans, they do not contain assurances that CRS and other private voluntary organizations will have access to the funds that are provided.

Peace Building/Peacekeeping
Another major disappointment is the very low level of funding for peacekeeping operations. The United States can play a pivotal role in support of regional and international efforts to help resolve conflicts and promote post-conflict reconstruction in war-torn regions, but it must provide adequate funding. The $85 M allocated by the Senate and the higher, but still low, $118 M approved by the House fall short of the $134 M which the Administration has requested and which seems to be the minimum necessary for the U.S. to exercise leadership in this vital area.

Sincerely yours,

Bernard Cardinal Law
Chairman, International Policy Committee
United States Catholic Conference