Congress again rejects steep cuts to US foreign assistance in new budget

Photo by: US Capitol

WASHINGTON — Congress released a budget on Wednesday night that largely maintained U.S. foreign aid funding at fiscal year 2017 levels, and once again rejected the steep cuts proposed by the Trump administration.

The bill provides $54 billion in funding for state and foreign operations, which is $3.4 billion, or about 6 percent, below the fiscal year 2017 levels. The cuts come in part from a reduction in U.S. spending on United Nations international peacekeeping missions, and because there were supplemental funds provided last year to scale counter-ISIS operations. The Trump administration had proposed roughly 33 percent cuts to foreign aid funding in its fiscal year 2019 request released last month.

U.S. Agency for International Development operations funding is $1.6 billion for fiscal year 2018, down $24 million from fiscal year 2017 levels. And while bilateral assistance is down about $900 million, many development and global health budgets held steady, or even saw slight increases. Congress maintained funding levels for most global health programs, including a total of $6 billion to combat HIV/AIDS, which includes funding for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund, and USAID’s programs.

Polio, bilateral family planning funding, nutrition, malaria, and neglected tropical disease all maintained the same levels of funding. Maternal and child health funding went up about $15 million; tuberculosis got a $20 million increase from 2017; and global health security saw a $100 million bump. The bill also appropriates $10 million to support a multi-partner trust fund or multilateral efforts to assist Haitian communities affected by the cholera outbreak caused by U.S. peacekeepers, according to a summary prepared by Senate Democrats.

Education, water and sanitation, microenterprise programs, and global women’s issues, also retained fiscal year 2017 funding levels.

Migration and refugee assistance received $3.36 billion in the bill, equal to last year’s levels, and about $4.29 billion in international disaster assistance, which is about $140 million less than fiscal year 2017, if the one-time supplemental appropriation to fight ISIS is included.

The Peace Corps and the Millennium Challenge Corporation maintained fiscal year 2017 funding levels, with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency seeing increases.

Despite the administration’s recommendation to cut Food for Peace funding, the bill provides $1.7 billion in funding for the program, which is up from about $1.46 billion in fiscal year 2017. Members of the House Foreign Affairs committee on Wednesday discussed the importance of funding in response to a near famine situation in several countries at a hearing Wednesday before the budget was released.

The legislation includes reforms and accountability measures for U.S. foreign assistance, including requirements to increase transparency through public reporting and to improve financial management systems and information technology systems at the State Department. It also increases funding for both State and USAID Inspectors General to implement Government Accountability Office recommendations and outlines spending limitations on conferences and first-class travel.

It also states that U.S. executive directors at international financial institutions require borrowing countries to make progress against fraud and corruption. The bill strengthens a provision prohibiting the taxation of U.S. foreign assistance, seeks to enhance humanitarian aid effectiveness, and includes provisions that aim to improve quality transparency and oversight of the World Bank and other IFI lending.

The bill aims to improve congressional oversight by requiring the State Department and USAID to report to Congress any plans to reduce the size of, consolidate, eliminate, or expand bureaus or offices.  

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.