House boosts foreign aid funding, adds $10B for COVID-19 response

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The House of Representatives exterior at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by: USCapitol

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee on Monday released its draft foreign aid bill for fiscal year 2021, including more funding overall, about $10 billion for global COVID-19 response, and specific funds for the World Health Organization.

The bill includes $65.87 billion in funding, an increase of nearly $8.5 billion from the fiscal year 2020 budget and more than $21 billion higher than what President Donald Trump requested in his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal earlier this year.

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“The House bill rejects the president’s ‘go it alone’ approach to foreign policy and expresses this committee’s concerns about the timely obligation and prudent expenditure of resources,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, who chairs the appropriations committee and the state and foreign operations subcommittee, at a markup of the bill on Monday.

“To ensure that unexpected events do not trigger the conditioning of aid thereby leaving intended beneficiaries vulnerable, this bill provides greater distinction between short-term diplomatic and political initiatives and long-term investments in development,” she added.

Global health funding was a key concern for advocates, especially given the impacts of the coronavirus. The committee has increased overall funding for health and added about $10 billion in funding directed at the COVID-19 response.

In the bill, the U.S Agency for International Development’s global health programs would get $3.2 billion, with the Department of State and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief receiving $5.93 billion, which the administration had proposed cutting by about $2 billion. That includes funding for Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, $1.56 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and at least $200 million for WHO. While the funding for PEPFAR is equal to what it was in fiscal year 2020, funding to global health programs is up about 2%.

The bill also includes $750 million for family planning, including $55.5 million for the U.N. Population Fund. It is unlikely that UNFPA will see those funds however, as the administration has blocked U.S. contributions to the agency using the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits foreign aid to any organization the administration determines is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Maternal and child health and efforts to fight infectious diseases saw a slight uptick to $2.64 billion and the bill increased global health security funding by $25 million from the fiscal year 2020 level, to $125 million.

Coronavirus pandemic preparedness and response emergency funding

$2.5B for USAID's global health programs (including $750M to Gavi and $800M to the Global Fund)

$1.28B to the U.N. Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19

$1.5B for the Economic Support Fund

$1.13B for the International Disaster Assistance account

$1.13B for migration and refugee assistance

$955M for diplomatic programs

$900M for the development assistance account

$105M for USAID operating expenses

On top of that traditional funding is an additional $10 billion for COVID-19 response. One of the big questions before the bill was released was whether funding for the global COVID-19 response would be included in the legislation, and while it has been, the allocation is less than the $12 billion advocates were asking Congress to provide. The last COVID-19 supplemental funding bill passed by the House, the HEROES Act, was focused on the domestic response, and while this inclusion will likely please advocates, the funding may not be available for quite some time.

Even as the House works to push its bills through the legislative process and to a vote quickly, many congressional watchers believe that there will once again be a continuing resolution —  a resolution from Congress that allows government departments to keep operating until a regular appropriations act can be passed — on many of this year’s funding bills. It is uncertain when the Senate will present its funding proposals and most believe a continuing resolution will likely delay the approval of an appropriations bill at least past the election in November.

While the subcommittee markup Tuesday was purposely kept short, some Republicans, including Rep. Hal Rogers, the top Republican on the subcommittee, raised the issue of “policy riders” that would make it impossible for them to support the bill.

One concern is likely the inclusion in the bill of the Global HER Act, which aims to permanently repeal the “global gag rule” and prohibits current and previous funds from being used to implement the Mexico City Policy and reinstates funding to UNFPA. Those provisions were also included in the House bill last year, but were removed before the final version was made law.

The legislation also requires reporting on USAID’s transformation efforts and requires the administration to consult with Congress and notify the appropriations committee prior to making any programmatic, funding or organizational changes as part of a foreign assistance review or realignment.

A clause in the bill also says that funding for particular programs or activities could be extended for a fiscal year if the Secretary of State or the USAID administrator decides that a change of circumstances makes it unlikely that the funds can be obligated within the original period. That seems to provide the administration, on condition of reporting to the committee, an opportunity to extend funding for programs that have been impacted by COVID-19.

Funding overview:

$3.8B for the development assistance account at USAID

$4.4B for the international disaster assistance account at USAID

$3.44B for the Economic Support Fund, including at least $225M for programs in the West Bank and Gaza

$1B for food security and agricultural development

$975M for basic education, $235M for higher education

$905M for the Millennium Challenge Corporation

$1B for the International Development Association (World Bank)

$206.5M for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)

$519.89M for Central America ($421M of which is for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras)

$410.5M for Peace Corps

$54.6M for the African Development Bank's capital increase

$171.3M for the African Development Fund at AfDB

$30M for the International Fund for Agricultural Development

Funding for USAID general operations, including the capital investment fund, and the inspector general is up about $14 million from fiscal year 2020, though the increase is primarily to the capital investment fund, while funding for operations dipped a bit. The bill outlines that the funding should support a minimum of 1,850 foreign service officers and 1,600 civil service staff at USAID, restoring staffing levels to 2016 levels.

Climate change efforts received more than $1 billion in funding, including $500 million in support for “developing nations” to work on climate change reduction, adaptation, and mitigation, and $315 million for biodiversity conservation.

There is also funding for women’s economic empowerment — $100 million for the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative Fund, or W-GDP Initiative, and $50 million for women’s leadership programs — along with at least $165 million for a multiyear strategy tackling gender-based violence and $130 million for work on women’s role in peace and security.

The House bill allocates less funding than the president’s budget had proposed on two issues that have been a priority for the administration —  the W-GDP Initiative, and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation. The president proposed $200 million for the W-GDP Initiative, and Congress includes $100 million — the same as fiscal year 2020. The House bill includes $311 million for DFC, boosting funding for administrative costs from what was appropriated last year, and again providing $150 million for equity investments, whereas the administration wanted nearly $770 million in total funding for the agency.

The administration had sought to provide more funding for equity investments, which for budget purposes have been scored in a way that requires appropriating funding on a 1:1 ratio, unlike loans, where a small pool of funding can leverage billions of dollars. Several lawmakers are working on a bill to address the scoring issue by amending the legislation that created DFC.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor 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.