Letter to U.S. Senate on FY 2018 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations for International Assistance, July 17, 2017

Year Published
  • 2017
  • English

July 17, 2017

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

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member
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 protect international poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance in Fiscal Year 2018. Please see the attached chart for a list of specific funding requests.

The Catholic Church has a rich body of social teaching that offers principles to guide international affairs and our engagement with the world as it relates to defense, diplomacy, and development. This teaching calls us to prioritize the protection of life and human dignity; to realize the global common good; to foster solidarity through subsidiarity; to uphold justice and peace; and to promote a preferential option for the poor. Pope Francis exemplifies these principles when he writes, "True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer."

Although defense is important to protect the common good, our principles and experience teach us that we should elevate development and diplomacy as primary instruments for combatting poverty, promoting peace, and fostering regional stability. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has repeatedly called for robust diplomatic efforts to prevent and mitigate conflicts as well as long-term development programming to address root causes of poverty, violence, and migration.

In our view, the Administration's Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal offers a different balance of priorities. Draconian cuts and eliminations to poverty-focused accounts illustrate a shortsighted foreign policy based largely on a narrow view of national security, which neither promotes American values, nor makes us safer in the long-run. These policy priorities also fail to uphold our moral standing, the dignity and livelihoods of those suffering, and the great progress we have made alleviating poverty and promoting human rights. A true foreign affairs vision is one in which the United States demonstrates its moral leadership around the world. Our leadership in turn encourages others to collaborate with us. When the United States makes international assistance a priority, it signals across the world that greatness, in part, means living up to our moral obligations. Since World War II, the United States and its citizens, through our generous contributions to foreign assistance, have been a beacon of justice, peace, and hope.

U.S. government assistance, including programs implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), has made an incredible impact around the world. U.S.-led assistance has stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa and prevented HIV and AIDs from debilitating countries across Africa; saved lives after hurricanes and typhoons; promoted education in Laos and increased girls' education across Afghanistan; supported local farmers to gain access to markets in Central America and East Africa; and even helped South Korea become the U.S.'s seventh largest trading partner. In short, aid provides opportunity, and aid works.

Therefore, we urge Congress to demand a thorough and deliberate process of consultation with the Administration and other key stakeholders, particularly implementers and faith-based organizations like CRS, to understand fully the global impact of the potential cuts the Administration has proposed. Implementers, like CRS, can offer on-the-ground expertise regarding how to cut red tape to get U.S. government humanitarian and development funding to beneficiaries more quickly; how to better partner with local civil society organizations so that aid builds local capacity and democracy; and how to create synergies between different programs and funding sources.

For almost 75 years, CRS has gathered private donor support and partnered with the U.S. government to save lives and help lift people out of poverty. Last year CRS served 120 million people in 112 countries. The combination of private and public funds allows CRS to be nimble and innovate while also enabling them to scale up when necessary. We work directly with the local Church and other partners to provide thoughtful, technical assistance based on critical analysis of contexts.

Long-term development assistance that helps stabilize regions and lift people out of poverty embodies the essence of this service. These funds help the poor and the marginalized obtain access to primary education and clean water, grow nutritious food, protect their environment, promote economic development, support good governance, respond to climate change, and create more sustainable, self-sufficient democratic societies. The Administration has proposed eliminating the Development Assistance account and merging it with the Economic Support Fund to focus on "countries and sectors that will have the most immediate and direct benefits toward strengthening U.S national and homeland security." We urge you to protect and maintain funding for the Development Assistance account and maintain its independence from political calculations and its focus on reducing poverty.

The solidarity of the American people with those suffering around the world has garnered Americans a reputation as a generous people. And with 65 million refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people around the world, Congress and the American taxpayer demonstrated their generosity by robustly funding humanitarian accounts in FY17 and providing $990 million in emergency spending to respond to famine in South Sudan and famine-like conditions in Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. USCCB and CRS are grateful for this additional allocation and urge you to protect the humanitarian accounts again in FY18: International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA). The Administration's proposal made drastic cuts to these accounts, including eliminating ERMA altogether. This account, necessary as a quick drawdown fund to respond to humanitarian crises, must be maintained to react adequately to needs.

The budget proposal also eliminated funding for emergency and development Title II Food for Peace programs, which are implemented by USAID. The proposal cuts by more than half funding for programming authorized under the Global Food Security Act and carried out under the auspices of USAID's Feed the Future and the Emergency Food Security Programs (EFSP). These programs are working together – with commodities from Title II and flexible modalities like vouchers from EFSP – to provide an overall improved response to food emergencies across the globe. Cuts in either program should not come at a time when needs for both kinds of responses are rising. Additionally, the synergies between Food for Peace Development Food Aid Programs that stabilize the poorest and most vulnerable households, and Feed the Future, which can take small farmers whose situations have been improved by Food for Peace to the next level, are moving people out of poverty and into prosperity. Moreover, maintaining these investments now reduces the emergency burden, strengthens fragile regions of the world, and helps people live the dignity of being able to feed themselves and their children.

Furthermore, while direct assistance is necessary to meet the needs of people fleeing from violence and natural disaster, we also must support mechanisms that prevent and mitigate further conflict while also helping to enable humanitarian access. We urge you to protect the Complex Crisis Fund, which has been targeted for elimination in the Administration's budget, to prevent conflict, save lives and assist war torn and traumatized communities with restorative justice and reconciliation. Additionally, we urge you to meet the United States' obligation to Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities and Peacekeeping Operations. Humanitarian intervention and peacebuilding efforts would be limited without United Nations coordination and regional peacekeeping efforts. While improvements can and must be made, peacekeeping is essential in many countries in crisis: the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.

Our Global Health investments should continue to address diseases that take a toll on the most vulnerable: HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The Administration's budget request proposes cutting funding from our bilateral HIV program, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and reducing the U.S. commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. With the goal of an AIDS Free Generation in sight, now is not the time to step back from American leadership. In 2016, PEPFAR supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for 11.5 million people, including 1.1 million children, and mitigated the toll of the disease on 6.2 million orphans and vulnerable children and their families. As of mid-2016, programs financed by the Global Fund resulted in 10 million people receiving antiretroviral treatment for HIV and AIDS, 16.6 million people receiving treatment for tuberculosis and the distribution of 713 million insecticide treated nets for the prevention of Malaria.

We also urge Congress to fund robustly the following global health accounts, which save lives and prevent suffering: Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition, Vulnerable Children, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Malaria, Tuberculosis and Pandemic Influenza and Other Emerging Threats. A strong investment in these accounts will address the biggest killers of children under five, support children during the critical first 1,000 days of their lives, strengthen family resilience, provide cost effective methods to address infectious diseases affecting more than one billion of the world's poorest people, and prevent future health crises.

The budget request also proposes redirecting Ebola funding for communities still recovering from the devastation of that disease to the Malaria and Emerging Threats accounts. In West Africa, due to Ebola, there are now tens of thousands of parents who have lost spouses and thousands more children who are orphaned. These communities are just getting back on their feet and beginning to farm again. They still need our help to recover from this disease which killed 11,325 people and devastated economies.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis called on the world to come together to address the challenge of climate change, both by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by helping developing nations adapt to the more frequent droughts and powerful storms they face because of
climate change. The budget request eliminates all funding for the multilateral Green Climate Fund, as well as for the bilateral Global Climate Change Initiative funded through the Development Assistance account and implemented by USAID. We urge you to respond to Pope Francis' call by providing multilateral and bilateral funding to help the poor overseas adapt to climate change, and to support measures that reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, combatting human trafficking, forced labor, and child labor has been a priority of the Catholic Church for a long time; and Pope Francis has tirelessly advocated for an end to modern slavery. The United States has been a global leader in preventing human trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers.  We hope this leadership, especially partnerships with NGOs, like CRS, to prevent trafficking, will continue. We urge you to fund strongly Anti-Trafficking in Persons programming, which helps countless women, men, girls, and boys to have an opportunity at life.

Thank you for your consideration and for the generosity you have shown to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The legacy we leave for future generations will be reflected in how we treat and serve the least of our brothers and sisters. 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

Mr. Sean Callahan
Catholic Relief