Letter to U.S. Senate on FY 2017 Appropriations for International Assistance, February 17, 2017

Year Published
  • 2016
  • English

February 17, 2016

The Honorable Lindsey Graham
Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Members
Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

Dear Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Leahy, 

In the spirit and words of Pope Francis, we lift our voices on behalf of "the poorest peoples of the earth" with the request that you robustly fund international poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance in Fiscal Year 2017.  Please see the attached chart for a list of specific funding requests.  

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote, "[T]he mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. We need to grow in a solidarity which 'would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny', since 'every person is called to self-fulfillment'."  

Every day across the globe, religious communities, working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as a partner with the U.S. government, help more than 90 million people in nearly 100 countries.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is in regular contact with bishops' conferences and local churches in countries around the world, and we draw on their experience in defending human rights, promoting peace, resisting extremism and fostering human development.  USCCB is proud that CRS and the Church globally bring not only assistance in meeting basic needs, but also hope, to people fleeing violence or yearning to break out of the cycle of poverty.

The number of people affected by humanitarian crises today is staggering.  The images of Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees washing up on the shores of Greece and struggling to find refuge in Europe are heartrending.  Less visible, but no less terrible, the scale of displacement in Africa, in places like South Sudan, Eritrea, and Burundi, is extremely high and straining neighboring countries.  The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates the total number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) has surpassed 60 million.  Even worse, the severity of conflicts in the world causing this massive wave of displaced people is not subsiding, as indicated by the fact that the voluntary return rate of those displaced from their homes of origin is at the lowest point in three decades.  USCCB and CRS urge you to fund vigorously once again humanitarian accounts: International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee Assistance and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance.

In countries like the Central African Republic and South Sudan, humanitarian intervention and peacebuilding efforts would be impossible without United Nations or regional peacekeepers.  We urge you to support the Administration's entire request for peacekeeping, including the Mechanism for Peace Operations Response.

These fragile countries that require peacekeeping troops point to the need for U.S. strategies and funding to prevent the descent into conflict and to help countries halt the violence, negotiate ceasefires, rebuild their governments, stimulate the private sector and re-establish vibrant civil societies.  We urge you to fund the Complex Crises Fund to assist countries to deal with the long term effects of violence by promoting restorative justice and reconciliation among those traumatized by civil war.

While emergencies abound, we cannot lose sight of the ongoing efforts made through wise investments in long-term development programming that help to stabilize countries and lift people out of poverty.  We urge you to fund strongly the Development Assistance account to address critical development programs, and to support specific aspects of the Economic Support Fund that reduce poverty and enhance the dignity of families.  It is important to provide additional funding in this critical account for: the ongoing flight of children and families from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador; the significant educational needs of Syrian refugee children; the continued progress made in furthering agricultural development; and the need to provide access to clean drinking water.

As Pope Francis has stated, "We cannot think that a society has a future when it fails to pass laws capable of protecting families and ensuring their basic needs."  We urge the continued leadership and investment of the United States in critical interventions that support the health and well-being of children and families, particularly through the Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition, and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) accounts.  Poor nutrition is the underlying cause of 45% of deaths of children under five years old.  OVC programs serve as a lifeline for children affected by HIV/AIDs and improve prevention and treatment outcomes among children, youth, and adults, contributing to the global goal of an AIDS-free generation.  We must also continue to build on the tremendous progress in combating infectious diseases through programs funded by the HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis accounts.  The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa proved that strengthening health systems globally not only protects the dignity of millions, but also is a valuable investment in preventing future outbreaks.

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.  If help is not provided, they could lead to more conflicts over scarce resources.  The United States should heed Pope Francis' call to a renewed and authentic stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us by supporting the Green Climate Fund.  

Thank you for your consideration and for the generosity you have shown to millions of people around the world.  We look forward to working with you to strengthen humanitarian and development assistance again this year.

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