The Trump administration is releasing its 2018 budget today, and it is proposing cuts in international humanitarian aid of breathtaking magnitude that will cause additional suffering to millions experiencing famine or fleeing persecution and violence.
Many around the world will die as a result.
These cuts will also dramatically compromise the capacity of the United States to support friends and allies addressing humanitarian challenges. Finally, they will send a powerful signal – to the Middle East, to Africa, to Asia and to other parts of the world – of a retreat from U.S. leadership.
It is ironic that this retreat comes at a moment in which the President and his team have emphasized the importance of U.S. leadership and partnership on humanitarian issues. In his remarks this past weekend in Saudi Arabia, President Trump applauded “Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees,” and repeatedly spoke of the importance of the United States partnering with governments in the region. Prior to her departure for the region, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. humanitarian aid, writing that “no country has invested more in protecting, housing, feeding and caring for Syrian refugees than the U.S.” And in connection with the nomination of Mark Green as USAID Administrator, Secretary Tillerson said that USAID has a “vital role in protecting U.S. national security by fostering stability, resolving conflict and responding to humanitarian crises.”
The formal budget release, scheduled for Tuesday morning, will reveal cuts of up to about one-third of U.S. humanitarian aid, with proposals to –
Eliminate the U.S. emergency food aid program at a time of impending famine in Africa: this program, known as Title II of PL 480 and funded at over $1.5 billion in recent years, has played a key role in averting widespread loss of life around the world, and while the Administration may seek to fund food aid through other USAID disaster accounts, the Administration’s proposal is not providing adequate monies for that purpose.
Provide no funding for a highly regarded special emergency humanitarian fund that has been an important source of flexible support for unanticipated emergencies: It’s hard to fathom why the Administration would be proposing to “zero out” the State Department’s “Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance” Fund. This modest fund, which received a $50 million appropriation in 2017, is one of the few State Department sources of genuinely flexible humanitarian resources and provides the Secretary and the President with tools necessary to ensure rapid response and U.S. leadership on key humanitarian issues.
Eliminate an “International Organizations and Programs” account that has been employed to fund critical humanitarian and development programs like UNICEF: The Administration is proposing that this account, known as International Organizations and Programs, be “zeroed out.”
Dramatically reduce U.S. contributions to international peacekeeping: At a tiny fraction of the cost of deploying national militaries, UN peacekeepers play a crucial role in promoting stability in countries threatened by conflict. In recent years, U.S. contributions have been around $2 billion, and these large cuts may also put the United States in violation of treaty commitments.
Reduce contributions to the State Department’s Migration and Refugee Assistance Account: This is the principal account through which the State Department provides assistance overseas to those fleeing persecution and violence. The Administration plans to cut the total 2017 appropriation of nearly $3.4 billion by nearly 20%.
Eliminate the U.S. development assistance accounts: U.S. development assistance has played a key role over many decades in promoting the kind of economic, social and political progress that has helped to avoid the kinds of humanitarian crises that create enormous suffering and require much greater expenditure of resources. It has been funded at nearly $3 billion in recent years, and the elimination of these programs would prove devastating. Here again the Administration may be proposing to fund some of these activities through other accounts, but reports indicate that the monies being proposed are wholly insufficient.
Taken together, these and other cuts would dramatically impact the capacity of the United States not only to lead in addressing the world’s most dire humanitarian challenges, but also simply to partner with friends and allies as they bear the primary burden of providing safe haven for refugees and displaced persons.
At far less than 1 percent of the total federal budget, funding for humanitarian response, broadly defined, is an exceptionally modest investment.
Thus, it will be up to the U.S. Congress to play its historical role in ensuring that these terrible cuts are reversed, and that the United States continues to pay its historical role as a leader in the effort to prevent and alleviate humanitarian suffering around the world.
Note: Much of this piece is drawn directly from a letter on the 2018 budget to President Trump, co-authored by Eric Schwartz and Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan and dated May 22.