Obama’s budget addresses extreme poverty, but Congress must do more

Announced last week, President Obama’s 2017 budget request makes considerable strides toward addressing issues that impact global poverty. But while the budget shows strong support for life-saving vaccines and polio eradication, it misses the mark on funding for clean water, sanitation, and global education, which are essential to ending extreme poverty. Over the coming months, Congress should stand for the world’s poorest by approving Obama’s budget requests for vaccine and polio investment and increasing U.S. contributions to programs expanding access to clean water, safe sanitation, and education for all.

Obama rightly understands that delivering life-saving vaccines to the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world is key to ending extreme poverty. More than 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. As such, Obama has asked to increase support in fiscal year 2017 for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to $275 million. The request is part of the United States’ historic pledge to provide Gavi with $1 billion between fiscal years 2015 and 2018, and will ensure programs that prevent diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea continue uninterrupted.  

ADVERTISEMENT
Equally encouraging is Obama’s call for further support in the fight to eradicate global polio by 2019. The president has earmarked $174 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a $5 million increase. The increased funding will scale up the CDC’s response to ongoing and new polio outbreaks, the world-wide transition from oral polio vaccine to the less risky inactivated polio vaccine, and the expansion of circulating polio virus surveillance and detection programs.

However, while Obama is making clear progress on issues of vaccination and polio eradication, his efforts towards improving global sanitation and global education are strikingly less compelling.  

In 2016, Congress authorized $400 million in funding for water and sanitation. The president’s 2017 request would cut this funding nearly in half – a poor reflection of the magnitude of the safe drinking water and sanitation crisis. One out of every three people worldwide lacks access to adequate sanitation – resulting in widespread death, disease, and social marginalization. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, as poor sanitation and lack of access to drinking water increase their risk of assault and girls often stop attending schools that cannot provide clean, safe toilets.  

Congress must step up and allocate $425 million for water and sanitation programs in 2017. The U.S. should not turn its back on girls and women in the poorest communities in the world.

Similarly, Obama’s budget would roll back progress and momentum on global education – requesting nearly 30 percent less funding for the Global Partnership for Education than Congress allocated for 2016. Since 2002, the Global Partnership has worked with partners to enroll 64 million more children in primary school in the poorest countries. At the same time, partner countries have increased the number of kids completing primary school to 73 percent, up 10 percentage points since 2002. And contributions to the Global Partnership help leverage commitments from developing countries – in fact, in 2014, developing country partners pledged an impressive $26 billion to finance the strengthening of their own education systems. The U.S. should not cut funding to these vital programs that are showing clear progress on global education.  

The proposed budget demonstrates strong signs of U.S. leadership on issues of extreme poverty. Over the next few months, the fate of these vital programs will fall in the hands of the House and the Senate, and it’s essential that Democrats and Republicans show unity on issues of extreme poverty. Interventions like vaccines, global education, and improved water and sanitation have demonstrated huge impacts in helping vulnerable people overcome the cycle of extreme poverty.  

Now, more than ever, it is critical that Congress stands up for the world’s poorest and fully funds programs that have been proven and effective in saving lives.

Rowland is the U.S. Policy & Advocacy manager at The Global Poverty Project