Why Foreign Aid Still Matters

These past two years have been a test of our resilience. In a time when we hear daily to put America First, the nation has also stepped forward to say America’s not alone.

Earlier this year, Congress passed a foreign aid budget that not only resisted the Trump administration’s proposed cuts, but even saw increases to the areas of maternal health and tuberculosis. The message is clear – foreign aid is unequivocally a bipartisan concern, just as it should be.

While foreign aid only amounts to roughly 1% of the federal budget, the United States is still the world’s largest donor. And increasingly, Americans are understanding the significance of this. In urging Congress to support USAID’s efforts, for instance, over 1,200 veterans from all branches of service signed a letter encouraging the nation to remain a global leader.

Since 9/11, which, in many ways, served as America’s wake-up call, politicians have come to believe that “military power alone does not work.” Currently, the United States has $27.7 billion planned in foreign assistance for 2019, with foreign assistance programs operating in over 100 countries that address issues ranging from economic development to education, health, and peace. Our AIDS relief program has provided medicine to over 14 million people, and our anti-malaria efforts have saved an estimated 6 million lives.

There has certainly been no shortage of critics. The primary arguments against our foreign aid efforts focus on reasons such as a cycle of dependency, ineffective programs that don’t cater to the aid recipients’ needs, as well as corruption. In the past, USAID’s antimalarial drugs have been stolen and resold on the black market in Africa, as has its HIV/AIDs funds been laundered.

However, much more important than the immediate outcomes from our giving is the very attitude behind the giving. The systematic problems these funds seek to address do not always have short-term solutions, if at all. With help, many Latin American and Asian nations have transformed since the 1960s to become donors themselves, including South Korea.

It is crucial to remember that in identifying areas where our foreign aid efforts fall short, we elect to improve rather than give up entirely. Recently, USAID has begun conducting “cash-benchmarking” exercises, in which its typical programs are tested against cash aid. Though results have not shown cash aid to be especially effective, at least not with USAID’s current standards for success, the key has been a mindset change in considering alternative benchmarks and models.

As challenging as it may be, Americans must stay vigilant when it comes to foreign aid. A better world makes for a better America, economically and otherwise. We have seen good results, and will keep doing so as we continually strengthen our programs. With rising uncertainty in global affairs, let us persist in standing by a value we can all agree on.  

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