USAID bows to lawmakers' demands

    Students enrolled in the Job Enabling English Proficiency project of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Mindanao, Philippines. Two U.S. lawmakers expressed outrage over the aid agency's involvement in an English-training program in the country. Photo by: U.S. Embassy Manila / CC BY-ND

    The U.S. Agency for International Development is suspending its English-training program in Mindanao after receiving a compelling letter from two U.S. lawmakers.

    Democrat Rep. Tim Bishop of New York and Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina wrote to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah April 19 to express outrage over the agency’s involvement in a program in the Philippines.

    The duo said the program, which is part of the Philippines Growth with Equity in Mindanao, weakens the U.S. domestic workforce and is a “direct threat” to America’s economic competitiveness. The program provides English training to at-risk Filipino youth, helping them land jobs in call centers — a booming industry in the country.

    The pair, which also objected to a similar program in Sri Lanka in 2010, demanded the project be “discontinued immediately.” They threatened to use legislation to “permanently prohibit” USAID from engaging in similar programs in future if USAID does not act on the matter.

    “Regardless how well intentioned, this program has the potential to harm the US economy and must be stopped,” Bishop said.

    In a letter dated April 20, Barbara Feinsten, deputy assistant administrator for legislative affairs, told the duo the program’s intention was to enable youth to “make productive contributions” to society and be less vulnerable to terrorism and extremism, and not support employment.

    Feinstein said English proficiency is a “universally valued skill” and enhances understanding and appreciation for American culture and society. The agency, however, decided to suspend the English training program pending “further review.”

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    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.