It falls to Congress to reject dangerous White House proposal
Updated May 23, 2017
The White House has released a budget request that would slash U.S. investments in the fight against poverty around the world. This proposal has been widely condemned by advocates, military leaders, the faith community, and members of Congress from both parties. But it remains the starting point in the federal budget negotiations for next year. The health and wellbeing of millions of families hang in the balance as Congress now takes up the process.
The budget from the White House proposes cuts of 32% to the State Department and our country’s main global development agency, USAID. These are among the deepest proposed cuts of any agency across the federal government. Programs that support education, quality nutrition, and lifesaving medical treatment are all on the chopping block.
The fight against poverty has been a bipartisan U.S. priority for decades, with increased investment and political leadership driving progress. Deaths of young children have been reduced by more than half since 1990, even as population has increased. There are 40 million fewer children missing out on primary school. Scientists believe an AIDS-free generation, once unimaginable, is now actually within reach. The White House proposal – or any funding cut – would put all of this in jeopardy.
Ultimately our country’s federal budget decisions lie with Congress, where there is longstanding bipartisan support for this work. Scores of members of both parties are on the record acknowledging that for a fraction of the federal budget, they are doing the right thing and the smart thing by investing in the end of poverty. In a divisive moment with a host of other political challenges, it will depend on their leadership to successfully counter the White House proposal.
Understanding the White House proposal
The proposed cut would leave this funding at the lowest levels since World War II as a percentage of GDP. While the overall international affairs account faces a proposed 32% reduction, several areas are protected. This means a range of programs are targeted for even steeper disproportionate cuts, including poverty-focused development programs like education, nutrition, and more.
The budget eliminates the Development Assistance account, currently the primary funding source for global education and many other anti-poverty programs. Some of these activities were combined into a new “Economic Support and Development Fund,” which has more political and security-focused goals, as opposed to long-term development and poverty alleviation. The funding now in this account is cut by 44% compared to the previous fiscal year, and support for dozens of countries is eliminated altogether.
Global health programs face a more than $2 billion cut (26%), including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, maternal & child health, nutrition, and more, which together have helped save millions of lives.
Cuts to the fight against global poverty are part of cuts across a range of federal agencies in order to provide a $54 billion increase to Pentagon spending.
Despite its total funding accounting for only about 1% of annual federal spending, international affairs faces the steepest cuts of any part of the budget, alongside the Environmental Protection Agency.
Close up: U.S. funding and the transformative power education
The rhetoric of budget debates can hide the real, human impact of U.S. government investment. A chance at quality education for the world’s most vulnerable children is just one of the many things these resources support.
The number of children missing out on primary school has fallen by almost 40 million since the turn of the century. This is thanks to the work of many lower income countries, with critical financial backing from donors like the United States. But there’s still a long way to go. A staggering 263 million children and youth are out of school around the globe, and tens of millions more can’t read a single sentence. In places like South Sudan, a young woman is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to graduate high school.
U.S. investments in basic education are giving countries the financial boost to provide their most vulnerable children a quality education. U.S. support helped 46 countries train 450,000 teachers annually over the last five years. The Global Partnership for Education, which the U.S. helps fund, has supported partner countries to get 64 million more children in primary school since 2002.
With each child enrolled in school comes an increased chance of a healthier, more secure, more prosperous future for that child, her community, and the world. A budget cut of the magnitude proposed could mean cutting that opportunity short for millions of the most vulnerable children.
“One child, one teacher, on book, one pen can change the world.” ― Malala Yousafzai
Backlash against draconian cuts
From activists to faith leaders to military leaders, the White House Budget was met with loud opposition. This extends to Capitol Hill, where leaders across the political spectrum have come out against the proposed cuts, from liberal Democrats to Freedom Caucus members.
“It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen, it would be a disaster.”
Ultimately Congress has the power of the purse. In the coming months, House and Senate committees will negotiate both the overall budget envelope, as well as actual funding amounts for individual programs (in the case of the global fight against poverty, these line items include everything from tuberculosis to education). If all moves ahead on schedule, these decisions would take effect October 1, the start of Fiscal Year 2018 for the U.S. government.
While leaders of all political stripes have pushed back against proposed cuts, real threats remain. Even a small cut to anti-poverty programs could have a devastating impact on millions of lives. Much of this work was underfunded in the first place. Leading tuberculosis experts believe current U.S. funding for the disease is only half of what it should be. A similar pattern holds for nutrition, which goes woefully underfunded, despite being the underlying cause of almost half of all childhood deaths. The list goes on.
Rather than pulling the rug out from under millions of families and communities, advocates are calling on Congress to protect and increase investment in what’s working. The chance to end the needless deaths of mothers and children around the world. The chance to achieve an AIDS-free generation. The chance to make sure every child gets a quality education. All of this is possible, but none of it is guaranteed. Cutting funding only pushes it further out of reach.
Where the White House has failed, it now falls to Congress to restore and expand this funding.