Foreign aid saves lives

Dear members of Congress, we want to say thank you.

At a time when Congress is seemingly under attack from all sides, you might be surprised to hear that. But there’s one side everyone can agree on and it’s something all taxpayers should know. We are living through the greatest improvements in child survival and health in human history, and it is thanks in large part to U.S. poverty-focused development assistance, aka “foreign aid.” As a result of U.S. leadership and partners around the world, 6 million fewer children will die this year than in 1990.

It’s time members of Congress take credit for their support of this unprecedented life-saving success. Of course the U.S. hasn’t done it alone. Our government works with other countries, unilateral organizations, non-governmental organizations and faith-based organizations. But the U.S. government’s indispensable funding, influence and leadership launches global initiatives, strengthens local capacity, and coordinates humanitarian strategies across national boundaries.

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These are lives saved and hope infused with one percent of the federal budget – yes, the much maligned and misunderstood foreign aid budget is only one percent. Yet it is an unparalleled return on investment, paying dividends for generations to come.

America’s public contributions overseas deliver results the private sector simply cannot achieve alone.

We know it works because we are there beside you. Sixty percent of U.S. foreign aid funding is channeled through American companies, NGOs and faith-based organizations, pivotal partners with decades of experience on the ground and the trust of communities. As implementing organizations, we have a global scope and frontline staff bearing witness to everyday success:  emaciated infants gaining weight, children drinking safe water for the first time, girls going to school, small micro loans revolutionizing entire villages.

According to UNICEF, compared to the year 2000, pneumonia will kill 625,000 fewer children this year; diarrhea will kill 663,000 fewer children; measles, 397,000 fewer children; malaria, 228,000 fewer children; and AIDS 107,000 fewer children. Polio, once the scourge that crippled 350,000 children a year until 1988, is down to under 300 cases. That’s 10 million people not crippled, who otherwise would be.

Harmful is the falsehood that poverty-focused foreign assistance is wasted. Improved agriculture, safe water, access to sanitation, primary education, vaccinations, better harvests, and economic growth in some the world’s most impoverished communities is not wasted aid. Some of you have traveled abroad and seen the benefits first-hand. In addition to saving lives and building the future, this type of foreign aid also bolsters our own country’s economic and national security. It’s no wonder that poverty-focused development assistance has had extensive bipartisan support since WWII.

It’s also some of the most effective investments we fund, annually costing Americans per capita:

·      $1 to fund U.S. government programs that provide access to safe water

·      50 cents to fund our overseas efforts to finally eradicate polio

·       $3 to fund our work to defeat malaria

·      30 cents to fund our efforts to treat a collection of seven debilitating, but preventable tropical diseases that afflict one billion people

In spite of these cost-effective accomplishments, the base foreign aid budget has been reduced by almost 20 percent since 2010 and the House of Representatives has proposed cutting it by additional 15 percent. Such a move is not in our nation’s best interest.

Members of Congress:  As you consider the unusual threats to foreign aid funding currently underway in the House of Representatives, we ask each one of you to consider this:  18,000 children still die every day, mostly from preventable disease.

We are a blessed country. Don’t stop momentum and roll back historic progress. We will stand with you, as do millions of our members – your constituents. Our faiths teach us to protect “the least of these.” (Matthew 25:40) To "Speak out, judge righteously, defend the cause of the poor and needy.” (Prov. 31:9) That “The saving of one life is like the saving of the whole of humanity.” (Qu-ran 5:32).

Our deep appreciation goes to those bipartisan supporters in Congress who have long understood this type of foreign assistance is both a smart thing and the right thing to do. For all God’s children.

McCullough is president and CEO of Church World Service, Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.  They work in conjunction with a diverse collection of 36 leading US-based organizations representing Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths, advocating to protect life-saving international humanitarian and development programs around the world.