Media CenterProposed Cuts to Foreign Aid Could Have Devastating and Long-Lasting Effects

Photo by Marie Arago for CRS

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Kim Pozniak
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]


WASHINGTON, DC, March 6, 2017  At a time of both increased need in the world and genuine progress against poverty, the administration’s proposed cuts to the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development would have devastating and long-lasting effects, both around the world and here in the United States.

With more people forced from their homes by war, poverty and climate change than ever before, now is the wrong time to cut assistance to the poor and marginalized. More than 65 million people are forcibly displaced from their homes – including more than 4 million Syrians; meanwhile, South Sudan is facing a famine and three other countries in East Africa and the Middle East are on the brink of a catastrophic hunger crisis.

“Now is not the time to cut support to poor and hungry people around the world. Lives depend on it. We need to help people, not desert them in their time of need, endangering their lives.” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice president for Government Relations and Advocacy.  “Americans are generous and expect their government to be so as well."

The administration proposes to increase military spending by $54 billion; with much of that money coming out of steep cuts – as much as 40 percent – to funding for the State Department and USAID, the federal agencies that lead the United States’ diplomacy and aid.

O’Keefe also noted Catholic teaching around foreign aid, and one of its basic tenets that wealthier nations have a responsibility to help poorer nations. Pope Francis, who’s made a point of helping the poor ever since he assumed the papacy four years ago, said the ‘responsibility for the poor and the marginalized must [therefore] be an essential element of any political decision, whether on the national or the international level.”

Programs focused on alleviating poverty and suffering account for less than one percent of the federal budget, and such aid is effective. One example is PEPFAR, the program that brought medicine and treatment for HIV and AIDS to impoverished countries around the world, and is currently supporting nearly 11.5 million people with life-saving antiretroviral treatment. Robust foreign assistance funding also came to the help of millions of people during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where the quick intervention by the international community, including the United States, prevented the deadly virus from spreading further.

O’Keefe pointed out that assistance focused on helping those in need is also in the interest of the United States.

“It builds allies and friendship. The top ten recipients of U.S. aid are countries like Jordan, a huge ally in the Middle East; Ethiopia, a major ally in the Horn of Africa; Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda, all friendly to the United States. They’re also countries that have been developing and joining the world economy as a result of U.S. assistance in part. Now is not the time to backslide by cutting this aid. Since it is proven to be effective, if anything we should be increasing its funding, not decreasing it.”

O’Keefe noted that foreign aid has strong bi-partisan support.

“One of the basic U.S. food aid programs – McGovern-Dole – is named after Democratic and Republican senators, both of whom were their party’s candidate for president,” he said. PEPFAR was started by a Republican president – George W. Bush – and reauthorized and expanded by a Democrat, Barack Obama.

Jerry Farrell, CRS South Sudan country representative in charge of a large, U.S. government-funded food aid program in South Sudan, said, “We are a very blessed nation. When we see people in need, we help them. It’s part of being American, and an opportunity to express our values in a most fundamental way. We help people get back on their feet but we don’t just keep them alive. By providing livelihoods and other support that builds resilience, we work toward lasting solutions so we don’t have to talk about famine again next year. The way you do that is with foreign aid.”

CRS has joined 109 non-governmental organizations urging the chairmen and ranking members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the Budget to protect international lifesaving humanitarian assistance and poverty-focused development programs.

“We know that the American people are generous and want to help those who need it,” O’Keefe said. CRS calls on Congress to reflect that generosity when they craft this new budget. “It is not just that the United States can afford this aid, it’s that what we can’t afford the kind of cuts the administration is proposing. The harm that would do – to the poor and to our interests – would be a painful self-inflicted wound.” 


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, @CatholicRelief@CRSnewsYouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

Tags: Advocacy
Michael Hill

Senior Writer

Michael Hill
March 7, 2017

Based in Baltimore, MD

As Senior Writer, Michael is responsible for much of the editorial production of the Communications Unit: press releases, op-eds, speeches, etc. He also is a supervisor in the department overseeing the work of three communications staff in Asia, Africa and the United States.

Before joining CRS is 2008, Michael had a 35-year career at the...More