Foreign Assistance and Funding Reform

Food awaiting distribution in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad.

CRS provided rice that had been provided by the World Food Program to residents in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad. Photo by David Snyder/CRS

Background and Overview

Over the past three decades U.S. foreign assistance funding has experienced highs and lows varying between 0.7% and 2% of the federal budget ($14.5 to $44 billion in constant 2010 dollars). Geo-political events and security concerns have played an important role in determining the amounts and focus of this aid. With the 9-11 attacks, aid levels rose sharply from 2001, nearly doubling from FY 2002 to FY 2010, with a focus on the "front-line states" of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as dedicated HIV and AIDS funding among other priorities. By 2011, fiscal crisis and focus on budget austerity led to diminishing numbers, but with relative stability to poverty-focused accounts.

Usually less than half of foreign assistance would fit the CRS-USCCB definition of "poverty-focused" aid. We have made this distinction to emphasize those activities which—consistent with Catholic teaching—contribute most directly to life-saving emergency assistance, reducing poverty and promoting sustainable peace. These include especially "Function 150" which is overseen primarily by the State/Foreign Operations appropriations sub-committees in Congress. Within the 150 account, CRS supports most of the global health programs, Development Assistance (food security, water, education, climate change, inter alia), Migration and Refugee assistance, and peacekeeping among others. Outside the 150 account, Food for Peace appropriations has also been listed in our advocacy.

In the push to keep up levels of U.S. government appropriations, CRS must use a judicious choice of rationale and alliances in order to stay true to its mission and Catholic social teaching. Balance is needed promoting foreign aid in the current context given the budget debates in the United States. Also, while aid can stabilize and promote security, we don't support a narrow view of securitized aid. Similarly, conditionality of aid funding even for laudable purposes can sometimes result in punishment of the most vulnerable. Finally, funding needs to adapt to expected trends including more frequent and intense natural disasters, 'people on the move,' and other shocks related to expected climate change.

CRS Positions

  1. Maintain or increase levels of poverty-focused relief and development assistance. In consultation and collaboration with the USCCB, we will support key accounts and provide an increased level of analysis to decision-makers for CRS priority areas of agriculture, health and humanitarian response and cross-cutting competencies such as peacebuilding/governance and capacity strengthening. Key accounts should be protected from ongoing sequestration cuts or reductions which may arise from future budget deliberations. The needs of displaced and refugee populations fleeing natural and conflict disasters, especially in ongoing and new regional crises in Africa (Mali) and the Middle East (Syria) means CRS must work especially hard to ensure adequate funding for humanitarian accounts. And of course, development assistance remains critical as a cheaper, longer-term solution to protecting human dignity and the common good.
  2. Advocate for funding to address a specific target of poor communities and countries. CRS and USCCB should work to influence the official concept of inclusive growth central to the Administration's strategy, ensuring it includes a focus on the poorest and is effectively funding safety nets and other programs spanning emergency, protection, and transition/resilience including the most vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities. The poor and marginalized in badly-governed countries, fragile, and conflict-affected states should not go without critical assistance due to either a focus on 'winners' or blunt foreign policy instruments, such as sanctions or overly broad conditionality. Several years ago the Bishops called for half to three-quarters of foreign assistance to go to poor countries and communities; it is worth revisiting this target for advocacy.
  3. Ensure aid funding—Administration's budget proposal and Congressional action/intent—includes robust funding for non-governmental and faith based groups. In particular, this position comprises the concern that increased aid to government, multi-lateral or intergovernmental entities does not come at the expense of civil society, excluding U.S. and local NGOs from funding instruments and involvement.
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