Former members to Congress: Don't cut foreign aid
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When we served in Congress, foreign aid had support among Republicans and Democrats. Given the life and death consequences the proposed cuts to foreign aid, this funding must not become political football today.

In the last 15 years, bipartisan U.S. administrations have brought development and humanitarian assistance to the fore of U.S. foreign policy They’ve done this by recognizing their importance to securing U.S. national interests around the world in cooperation with defense and diplomacy.

Presidents Bush and Obama both established new aid initiatives, including the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Feed the Future, and Power Africa, which brought greater innovation, transparency, private-sector involvement, and data-driven programming to U.S. foreign assistance. Recent reforms at the U.S. Agency for International Development have made our foreign aid even more efficient. Now is not the time to turn away.


Some politicians like to peddle misconceptions about how cutting foreign aid would help balance the budget, and many Americans vastly over-estimate the percentage of the budget that goes to foreign aid.

In fact, less than one percent of the federal budget goes to poverty focused international assistance, and that funding is vital for demonstrating America’s humanitarian values, protecting our national security and strengthening the global economy.

The fight against global poverty is one of our country’s proudest traditions and smartest investments. From economic development to increased government accountability, from basic services like education, to life-saving programs like vaccines and food aid, foreign aid is crucial. And it’s needed now more than ever.

Today, the world faces an unprecedented hunger crisis, with four countries on the verge of famine. In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, 30 million people are facing extreme hunger, 10 million of whom are on the brink of starvation, according to humanitarian organization Oxfam.

On top of this devastating hunger, the conflict in Syria is in its sixth year and has forced millions to flee their homes, fueling a worldwide refugee crisis on a scale not witnessed since the Second World War.

Millions are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the scale of the emergency continues to outweigh the planned response. The funding cuts Congress is now debating may prevent life-saving aid from reaching those in need, and stall countries’ ability to recover from shocks and prevent future crises.

At a time of rising needs, any cuts to foreign aid is immoral, short-sighted and costly — both to people experiencing disaster and displacement, and to the U.S. standing in the world.

But foreign aid is not just about helping people in poor countries. Foreign aid has a huge impact here at home too.

By supporting efforts to reduce the poverty and injustice that fuel social tensions and destabilize communities and countries, we can help keep our country safe. In a recent letter to Congress, more than 120 retired generals and admirals wrote that “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe,” and stressed that the State Department and development agencies “are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

It’s also good for our economy. By helping to improve livelihoods, foreign aid can help support a generation of demand for U.S. goods and build stable trading partners.

Despite popular rhetoric, cutting aid or making it less effective won't close the government's budget gap or make America more secure — but it will close the door on a better future for the world's most vulnerable communities and the future well-being of the United States.

Congress must protect this small but critical part of our country’s budget to save lives, help people lift themselves out of poverty, spur economic growth, and make the world a better and safer place.

Claudine Schneider (R-R.I.) Barbara Kennelly (D-Conn.) Lynn C. Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) are all former members of Congress.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.