February 16, 2011

Foreign Aid Would Grow Slightly in Obama Budget

President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget calls for a modest increase—1 percent—in spending on foreign affairs and development.

The proposal would provide slightly more than $47-billion for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, when costs for operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan are excluded. That compares with roughly $46.5-million in 2010.

The proposal was met with relief at international charities.

"Given the fiscal and political pressures that abound right now, this is a sensible and responsible request by the administration for 2012," said Todd Shelton, senior director of public policy at InterAction, a Washington group that represents international aid organizations.

Areas that would see increases include global health and child survival (which would rise from $7.8-billion in 2010 to $8.7-billion); the Peace Corps (from $400-million to $440-million); general development assistance, which includes basic education, agriculture, microfinance, and other types of programs (from $2.5-billion to $2.9-billion); and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which focuses on antipoverty efforts in certain countries that are committed to good governance (from $1-billion to $1.1-billion).

The United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (better known as Pepfar) would also get an increase, from $6.8-billion in 2010 to $7.1-billion. That would include $1.3-billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, compared with $1-billion in 2010.

Areas subject to cuts include assistance for migrants and refugees (which would drop from nearly $1.7-billion to $1.6-billion); nonproliferation, antiterrorism, and landmine-removal programs (from $754-million to $709-million); and the economic support fund (from $6.5-billion to $5.9-billion).

The House Appropriations Committee, however, has called for deep cuts in 2011 spending on foreign aid and development.

Proposed legislation introduced by the committee’s Republican leadership would slash $1.5-billion from 2011 spending on global health and child survival; $115-million from 2011 spending on the Peace Corps; $489-million from spending on the Millennium Challenge Corporation; and $1.2-billion on spending on general development assistance, among other cuts.

Many charities are encouraging their supporters to push back against those proposals.

“Developing countries rely on U.S. funding to provide anti-retrovirals, bed nets, emergency obstetric care, and other interventions that have been proven to save lives and make the world more stable and secure,” Jeffrey L. Sturchio, president of the Global Health Council, said in a statement. “Now is not the time to roll back this progress.”

While aid leaders were mostly happy with the president's 2012 budget proposal, they did sound a few cautious notes.

Mr. Shelton said that InterAction would be watching what happens with funding for emergencies. Disasters rarely receive enough money in the budget and typically rely on a supplemental allocation to meet needs, he said.

While Pepfar's overall work will increase, direct aid to countries for their HIV/AIDS programs will remain flat under the proposal. That could "hinder the U.S. government's ability to fully meet prevention, treatment, and care goals," said Smita Baruah, director of policy and government relations at the Global Health Council.