Foreign Assistance Funding and Reform


Foreign assistance makes up less than 1% of the federal budget, yet is used for live-saving assistance to those around the world who suffer from hunger, poverty, and the impacts of war and political turmoil. Annually, the U.S. Congress passes appropriations bills that provide funding for executive agencies, which carry out functions including funding for poverty-related programs. The budget and appropriations process not only determines funding for agencies such as the State Department and USAID, but also has become one of the main vehicles for influencing their policies.

Together with the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops (USCCB), CRS approaches the budget as a moral document that must protect the poor and marginalized. Foreign assistance focused on relieving poverty, consistent with Catholic Social Teaching, are those accounts that contribute most directly to life-saving emergency assistance, reducing poverty and promoting sustainable peace.

CRS’ Policy Recommendations:

Based on CRS’ program experience serving those who are most in need around the world, CRS makes the following broad-based recommendations to the U.S. Government:

1.       Prioritize international affairs accounts and sub-accounts which protect life and dignity. CRS and the USCCB support accounts aimed at poverty-reducing humanitarian and development assistance, including all humanitarian accounts which provide life-saving assistance to those who face disaster and war. Development assistance for programs that address hunger, water, education, climate change mitigation remain critical for a more cost-effective and essential long-term solution for achieving sustainable development. Global health sub-accounts and peacekeeping funding also contribute to these objectives.

2.       Target the most poor and vulnerable around the world.  CRS and USCCB support program funding and policies that focus on addressing the needs of the most poor and vulnerable, in line with Catholic Social Teaching. This includes USG strategies that fund safety nets to protect the most vulnerable from devastation from shocks and stresses, protection activities that safeguard women and children, and policies that address the unique needs of those who are displaced. 

3.       Promote good stewardship of taxpayer dollars through prioritizing accounts which are proven most efficient and effective.  To this end, CRS makes separate recommendations to specific program funding and policies, based on our on-the-ground experience implementing poverty-focused programs. Broadly speaking, poverty reduction is a long-term endeavor that often requires multi-year funding of programs to achieve progress. Improved reporting on monitoring and evaluation of programs can provide evidence of programs’ effectiveness and efficiencies.

4.       Protect and promote the unique role of faith-based organizations and other civil society actors for effective poverty-alleviation. Faith-based groups and civil society actors who have been present in communities for decades or even centuries are trusted actors in times of humanitarian need, and are often most effective for carrying out longer-term development activities. Foreign assistance funding should protect assistance instruments—grants and cooperative agreements—that encourage partnerships with these groups which have a deep understanding of local customs and structures to optimize results in complex and constantly changing environments.

5.      Appropriately fund local civil society organizations based on timing and proven capacity.  While CRS supports the essential role of local civil society to carry out humanitarian and development activities, and USAID’s adoption of its FWD initiative toward this end, doing so effectively will take time. Where needed, the U.S. Government should fund international organizations to build the capacity of local organizations, and understand that prematurely funding local organizations directly can destroy the credibility of international assistance for entire populations and put existing implementers at security risk.