Last month, I traveled to Jordan with humanitarian organization CARE to see firsthand how U.S. foreign assistance programs are saving lives and building the resilience of displaced individuals and families during one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. Currently, Jordan is home to more than 660,000 Syrian refugees, the majority of whom are women and girls and half of whom are under the age of 18.
What I saw in Jordan is part of the biggest refugee crisis of our time, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. Meanwhile, 20 million people are at risk of famine in four separate countries. That’s an unprecedented number, and the need could become even greater.
Yet amid these historic challenges, we’re facing calls for extreme U.S. federal budget cuts that would drastically reduce the ability of the United States and humanitarian organizations to respond to those in need, including the families I met in Jordan.
The Trump administration’s FY18 budget proposal called for the complete elimination of the Food for Peace Title II program and steep reductions to international disaster assistance — two programs that provide lifesaving aid and food assistance to millions of people around the globe. After what I witnessed in Jordan, I’m more convinced than ever that budget cuts like these are downright dangerous, and they would cost countless lives.
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What impressed me most during this trip were the similarities I witnessed among so many women and mothers who live in disadvantaged circumstances. Whether in my district in Philadelphia or in a refugee camp in Jordan, the challenges were not unique to one area. When women in crises have access to life’s basics, such as food, shelter, water, safety and health care, they are often empowered to boost their economic security and change their lives, their children’s lives and the lives of the people around them.
Many of the displaced families in Jordan were forced to flee their homes, families and jobs because of extreme violence, war and persecution. It is heart-breaking to see women and girls bear such significant burdens, as they do in virtually every humanitarian crisis. Women and girls often suffer disproportionately when it comes to food insecurity, health care and gender-based violence. Child marriage, for example, becomes a reality for too many girls in humanitarian settings as a means of survival when a family has limited resources.
U.S. funding to humanitarian organizations is vital to reach these women and families in need. The U.S. House of Representatives recently proposed a disproportionate cut to foreign assistance, at 17 percent. Now, the House will vote on that cut and even deeper cuts next week. Knowing the critical role our foreign assistance plays, I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand up and protect this funding from any further cuts and ask them to fight to restore critical funding that is slated to be eliminated.
Foreign assistance, which accounts for roughly 1 percent of the federal budget, saves lives, particularly during catastrophes like the Syrian civil war, and it prevents similar crises from occurring in other endangered areas of the world. When the U.S. government supports and partners with organizations such as CARE, they are able to provide emergency humanitarian assistance and sustainable development programs that specifically empower women and girls. The impact is remarkable.
While we know women suffer disproportionately in conflict and displacement, they also often become the sole providers and protectors of their families, responsible for the safety and stability of their neighborhoods. They’re positioned at the center of conflict, yet time and again, we see them use that position to foster cooperation and progress toward creating more productive lives, even while facing the challenges of displacement.
In Jordan, we met mothers who are taking control of their futures, sometimes for the first time. I spoke with a Syrian mother named Shareefa, who has lived in Jordan with her family since 2014. She shared that, more than anything, she wishes to return back home with her family and live in peace. Since that’s not currently possible, she’s seeking out every opportunity to help her family stand on their own two feet, including CARE’s voucher and job training programs, and investing everything into her children’s educations.
What I saw in Jordan reminded me that powerful women will always make big changes happen, especially when they have access to the right resources. And we are seeing the critical role women play in conflict situations, not just in developing countries, but also right here at home. Growing up in Philadelphia, I saw that it was the mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters who helped our city cut down on gang violence. They were members of an organization called Mothers in Charge, a brave group of women using the pain of having lost a loved one to gang violence to lift their voices and prevent another mother from experiencing this horrific tragedy.
I came home from my trip with an even stronger resolve to support these changemakers in any way possible. Simply put, the Trump administration’s proposed budget would endanger the efforts of the U.S. government and partners such as CARE. These cuts would halt progress, cost lives and create continued suffering and pain in communities around the globe.
I cannot stand by and watch these budget decisions result in lives lost. Ultimately, the federal budget is a document that reflects our nation’s guiding principles in action. We have an obligation to make sure it reflects our country’s core values and stand by our long and proud bipartisan legacy of foreign policy leadership. It is time for us to step up and live our humanitarian values out loud.
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