Leaked US budget document suggests deep humanitarian, global health cuts

A member of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team looks on as humanitarian relief supplies from Puerto Rico arrive in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Lussie / U.S. Navy

Yet another document that appears to outline the Trump administration’s budget intentions leaked on Friday. While the numbers are preliminary — the document is dated May 8, and the official White House budget is expected May 23 — the spreadsheet, if authentic, paints another grim picture of how the president views U.S. foreign assistance.

The document was obtained by Third Way, which describes itself as a centrist think tank. Third Way considered it in the public’s interest to publish the spreadsheet in its entirety, according to a statement on the group’s website.

When the White House releases its full, official budget proposal next week, it will kickstart a conversation on Capitol Hill about how to fund the government in fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1. Most observers say that Trump’s budget proposal stands more as a statement of White House priorities than as a likely blueprint of government spending.

In the leaked document international humanitarian assistance is among the hardest hit budget items, with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Food for Peace office entirely eliminated in the budget document. The elimination of Food for Peace would spell the end to international food assistance programs worth $1.7 billion, at a time when the world faces the potential of four simultaneous famines.

The massive proposed cut to international food assistance left USAID’s former disaster chief wondering if he had misread the document. “It's catastrophic. So bad I fear I’m misreading it. But — don’t think I am,” wrote Jeremy Konyndyk on Twitter.

The budget also proposes the elimination of the “McGovern-Dole international food for education program,” a $202 million school-based food assistance program intended to improve school attendance in rural and fragile areas.

At this point, it is not possible to say whether the elimination of U.S. food aid programs will appear in the budget proposal the White House plans to produce next week — or if this leaked document accurately reflects the administration’s current budgetary intentions. Even if this is the administration’s position on humanitarian assistance it is highly unlikely Congress will enact such cuts. Humanitarian assistance has typically enjoyed bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, as evidenced by the addition of $900 million for famine relief included in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

In addition to the food aid cuts, USAID’s international disaster assistance account is down from $2.7 billion in 2016 to $2.5 billion. International disaster assistance allocations for 2017 were even higher than in 2016, reaching $4.4 billion after a recent supplemental increase targeting famine relief. Against the backdrop of global food insecurity, the proposed White House cuts appear even more dramatic than they might have one year ago.

Asked to comment on the accuracy of the leaked budget document, a USAID spokesperson pointed back to the budget outline released on March 8 and forward to the official budget expected next week.

The FY 2018 budget blueprint the White House released in March proposed 28 percent cuts to State Department and USAID programs. The spokesperson said USAID cannot add any more details to what was released at that time until the rollout of the full budget next week.

Global health accounts also face a big reduction if the official budget matches what is presented in the leaked document. This account, which includes programs such as PEPFAR — the HIV/AIDS program — and the President’s Malaria Initiative would decline from $8.5 billion in 2016 to $6.5 billion.

This budget appears to confirm what a previously leaked document said, which is that the development assistance account will be eliminated. While the earlier document seemed to show that some of those cuts would be offset through State-department managed Economic Support Fund, the latest document shows only a $600 million increase in ESF funds from 2016 spending, far less than the $2.7 billion spent through the development assistance account in 2016.

While the document paints a bleak picture for foreign aid as a whole, it may allow a few small development agencies a bit of a reprieve. Several of the agencies that the “skinny” budget placed on the chopping block receive funding, according to this document, though with dramatic cuts to their budget. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the U.S. African Development Foundation, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Inter-American Foundation will all continue to receive some funding, according to the document. USTDA is allotted $12 million, down from $75 million.

The Overseas Private Investment Corp. — which has received perhaps the most vocal show of support since the skinny budget showed its elimination — however, receives no funding in this budget document.

This document also provides the first glimpse into how the Millennium Challenge Corp., a favorite among Republicans, will be funded. The agency is allotted $800 million, according to the document, about $100 million less than was allocated to the agency in 2016.

Peace Corps, which some had feared would face steep cuts, sees a $12 million reduction from 2016 spending — bringing total funding for the agency to $398 million.

While most multilateral development banks see their contributions from the U.S. government cut, as was indicated in the skinny budget, the Inter-American Development Bank will see its budget cut entirely, according to this document. In 2016 the U.S. gave the bank $102 million.

USAID’s office of Overseas Transition Initiatives, which works in relative secrecy to support pro-democracy groups overseas, sees a rare budget increase under this tentative plan, increasing from $67 million to $92 million.

When the full budget proposal arrives Tuesday, it should be accompanied by a budget justification, which explains how the budget reflects the White House’s priorities. At that point the U.S. development community could get a clearer picture of the president’s views on global development’s role within U.S. foreign policy.

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of what the Trump administration means for global development. Read more coverage here and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

About the authors

  • 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.
  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.