Poverty-focused international assistanceDecember 3, 2012
In the aftermath of a long and drawn-out political campaign, an election, and one of the most destructive hurricanes in our nation’s history, we might all be tempted to say, “Enough!”
We cannot allow ourselves to do that. We need to stay engaged and involved as faithful citizens. Lives are quite literally at stake in this lame duck session of Congress. While it might seem anti-climactic, this session is highly important, not just for our country as we face the possibility of the devastating budget cuts required by sequestration, but also for millions of people around the world who need the assistance of the United States to survive and to continue on their path to economic development.
Because of Congress’ failure to address our deficit concerns, U.S international assistance for the impoverished faces potential additional cuts of 8.2 percent. These lifesaving accounts currently amount to less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Deeper cuts to U.S. poverty-focused international assistance would have a negligible effect on our budgetary problems, but would have an enormous impact on many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
Consider some of the dire consequences these additional cuts would mean:
- 656,000 children annually will not have access to a quality primary school education.
- HIV/AIDS treatment for 276,500 people will not be available, potentially leading to 63,000 more AIDS-related deaths and 124,000 more children becoming orphans.
- 3.33 million people will have reduced or no access to lifesaving food aid.
We must communicate with our elected officials in Washington now. Some of those officials are completing their service in the Congress. We should insist that they put aside the rancor of the campaign and reach across the aisle to find real solutions to our economic problems.
Before recessing, the House and Senate both passed bills to fund foreign aid. The House should adopt the numbers proposed by the Senate, in both the State Department/Foreign Operations appropriations and for the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole food aid programs in agriculture appropriations. Food for Peace delivers food in emergency situations and helps poor people feed themselves. The McGovern-Dole bill, named after the late George McGovern and Robert Dole, is just the type of bipartisan effort that Congress should be supporting in so many areas. The lame duck Congress can lay a foundation for a new era of bi-partisan cooperation to get needed work done for our nation and the world.
Disasters, similar to the devastating Hurricane Sandy that took so many lives and left so many people impoverished in our own country, regularly strike people around the world. They need our help. Right now thousands of innocent people fleeing the fighting in Syria have lost everything and need shelter and food to survive. Millions in the Sahel region of West Africa are trying to recover from a devastating drought. They need U.S. aid to get them back on their feet. Tens of millions still suffer the ravages of HIV, malaria and myriad other diseases, and they look to the U.S. to help provide medication and to build up their local health infrastructures.
U.S. poverty-focused international assistance not only helps these people, it heightens this country’s special leadership role in the world and our values as a nation. Our aid would tell them that the United States is a place where God speaks with the call for compassion.
By almost any measure, great strides are being made against poverty worldwide. We are spending our aid money more wisely and efficiently than ever before. As a result, thousands of people are finding ways out of poverty, discovering the fulfilled lives that God intends for them while laying the foundation for economically vibrant countries. Don’t let this lame duck session cripple that progress. Tell your representatives to vote to fully fund our international poverty-focused programs.
Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas, D.D.
Bishop of Tucson
Chair of the Board of Catholic Relief Services