Faith-based aid groups are grateful to Congress for funding

All of us engaged in global health, development and humanitarian assistance have waited with baited breath for the FY17 Congressional budget. Now we want to take a moment to lift up our voices and say thank you.

We are grateful because, even though foreign assistance is less than one percent of the federal budget, every dollar is vital. We are on the front lines and we know that without U.S. government funding, leadership and influence, our humanitarian work would greatly suffer, as would the most vulnerable we serve. 

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Every year this small foreign assistance budget faces unnecessary threats because there’s a perception it has no constituency. Be assured, people of faith and values in all 50 states make up a very large and committed constituency. We know foreign assistance doesn’t take away resources from our domestic work; in fact, American faith-based organizations (FBOs) leverage public funds $6 for every government $1, investing over $6.6 billion in international assistance. From large denominations to small houses of worship in all 50 states, we contribute millions more.

 

The possibility of four looming famines weighs heavily on our minds. Again we thank Congress for providing $990 million for famine relief. We know drought need not become famine. When USAID, in partnership with Food for the Hungry, provided emergency food distributions through local partners to almost 300,000 people in parts of Ethiopia, they helped stop the El Niño drought from becoming a famine.

The Millennium Water Alliance, which brings together secular and faith-based aid organizations to work with USAID, work to get safe water, sanitation, and hygiene education (WASH) to areas struck by drought and climate change. Just one project, the Kenya Arid Lands Disaster Risk Reduction, directly benefitted more than 174,000 people.

Also on our minds is President Trump’s proposal to eliminate Development Assistance (DA). Instead, Congress understands DA is a hand up, not a hand-out, and increased the FY17 DA budget by $214.5 million. Here, too, FBOs successfully work in partnership with USAID. Lutheran World Relief taught 1,000 women in rural India how to diversify crops from just rice through innovative farming practices. Health greatly improved, especially for children; and these women earned five times the income of the average small farmer by selling high-value vegetables at local markets.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Food for the Hungry provided over 13,000 families with farmland by rehabilitating swampland with 92 miles of canals, drains and ditches. In Burundi, religious leaders recognized the severe economic and social consequences of women averaging 6.4 children. World Relief trained 130 religious and community leaders to disseminate accurate information about healthy timing and spacing of births, while respecting religious values. This $79,000 project targeting 200,000 people increased modern family planning from 8 percent to 50 percent, and dramatically improved maternal and child health.

We appreciate Congress’ six percent increase for USAID’s Operating Expenses, clearly indicating you understand that USAID is an agency with crucial capabilities that no other agency deploys. USAID works among foreign populations, responding to and containing threats — from pandemics to famines to the greatest refugee and IDP crisis since WWII. USAID sets long-term health and development goals, and monitors and evaluates strategic programs. To attempt to fold USAID into State would be detrimental to their complimentary but distinct missions with different strategic goals.

Let’s also pause and remember that every statistic is a singular life. U.S. foreign assistance has led the way to cutting in half extreme global poverty, and the number of children dying from preventable causes — from malaria and AIDS to tetanus and unsafe water. 10 million people today are not crippled by polio who otherwise would be; 2017 has seen just five case of polio.

U.S. foreign assistance is our moral call and our opportunity to feed the hungry, offer water to the thirsty, and free the stranger from exploitation. As the FY18 budget debate gets underway all too soon, we are deeply grateful that Congress has made its bipartisan support of American values put to work, abundantly clear.

We often quote, “What does the Lord requires of us?” America cannot control all crises natural and manmade, but we can offer help to the most vulnerable, so that we all may have the opportunity to thrive in God's kingdom. I believe U.S. foreign assistance is an opportunity for each of us to walk humbly with our God.

Jean Duff leads Faith for International Assistance (FIA), which seeks to strengthen U.S. public support and funding for global health, humanitarian and development assistance, and the Joint Learning Initiative for Faith and Local Communities.


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