Faith leaders are urgently needed to remind Americans and Members of Congress of the live-saving accomplishments of U.S. foreign assistance; the religious rationale behind it; and to inspire other faith-based constituencies to urge Congress to fully fund poverty-focused health, development and humanitarian good works.
- FACT: Foreign assistance is highly effective.
- FACT: Foreign assistance is less than 1% of the federal budget and yields impressive Returns on Investment.
- FACT: The vast majority of taxpayers are in favor of public funding for foreign assistance.
- FACT: Women and girls are key to sustainable success.
- FACT: Helping poor and sick children overseas does not neglect children here at home.
- FACT: Foreign assistance yields economic benefits for Americans.
- FACT: Transparency, independence, and local leadership are U.S. foreign assistance priorities.
- FACT: Foreign assistance helps protect the U.S. from global health threats.
- FACT: U.S. foreign assistance is a key, bipartisan-supported component of U.S. national security.
- FACT: The private sector actively funds and supports foreign assistance, but no one can replace the impact of
U.S. government leadership, funding and influence.
1. FACT: Foreign assistance is highly effective.
U.S. foreign assistance is an inspiring success story that delivers large-scale, life-saving, measurable outcomes for children and families in impoverished countries through poverty reduction, improved health and development, and humanitarian assistance.
From natural disasters to conflict, there will, of course, always be needs to be met, and media and foreign assistance organizations understandably focus on unmet needs. This can leave the impression that foreign assistance is a failure. But in fact, the great-untold story of foreign assistance is its unparalleled success.
The U.S. has a long and proud bipartisan legacy of saving lives and preventing needless suffering and it's paying off.
Child mortality has been cut in half, meaning 6 million fewer children will die before their fifth birthday than in 1990. Extreme poverty has been cut in half. Many fatal diseases are now prevented or treated at relatively low cost. Seven different painful, debilitating and deadly Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTDs, which strike the world’s poorest including 500 million children, are now treated for pennies.
Let’s not forget that the near global eradication of polio, led by the U.S. government and private partners, has left ten million people not crippled and walking today.
STOP THE MYTH: “Foreign aid doesn’t work”
2. FACT: Foreign assistance is less than 1% of the federal budget and yields impressive Returns on Investment.
It's hard for Americans to comprehend just how little we spend on foreign assistance, so it's not surprising, when polled, most Americans believe our government spends upwards of 25% of the budget on foreign assistance. The portion of the federal foreign assistance budget specifically dedicated to alleviating poverty, disease, hunger and meeting emergency humanitarian needs is one half of one percent. The U.S. is no doubt generous in terms of dollars given, but we rank 23rd of the 27 wealthiest nations in our commitment to global development, according to the 2017 Commitment to Development Index.
No federal dollars touch more people, more cost-effectively, than poverty-focused health and development assistance. It yields impressive Returns on Investment, ROI. Here are some examples:
- River blindness: At an annual cost of just 58 cents per person, over 150 million people in more than 30 countries are protected from permanent sight loss from this Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD). USAID has become a global leader in large-scale implementation of integrated treatment programs for NTDs. Over the past 10 years, USAID has become a global leader in large-scale implementation of integrated treatment programs, leveraging $15.7 billion in donated medicines, resulting in the delivery of more than 2 billion treatments to approximately 936 million people through our integrated programs to counter the 7 most prevalent NTDs. Most NTDS are found in unsafe water and sicken some 2 billion people; 500 million are children.
- Malaria: For every $1 invested in malaria prevention and treatment, $40 in economic benefits can be expected through healthier, better-educated and more productive working communities. Malaria-free countries have five times greater economic growth than countries with Malaria.
- Nutrition: Simple interventions can bring in $138 ROI for every $1 invested through better health and increased productivity. Iodine deficiency is one example: The single greatest preventable cause of mental retardation, It affects 1.8 billion people and can be remedied with iodizing salts costing just 5 cents per person per year. Other typical interventions include zinc and Vitamin A supplements, iron fortification, and deworming drugs to prevent loss of nutrients. Just controlling hookworm in children can increase future earnings by 43%.
- Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs): USAID’s $386 million investment in NTDs has leveraged $6.7 billion in donated medicines to 25 countries since 2006. Most NTDS are found in infected water and sicken some 2 billion people; 500 million are children.
- Agriculture: Enhanced crop and livestock productivity, and reduction of yield losses, can result in an ROI of $16 for every $1 invested, reducing malnutrition, child stunting and reliance on food aid in times of crisis.
- Water/Sanitation/Hygiene (WASH): Strengthening health systems with WASH produces economic benefits ranging from $5 - $46 per $1 invested in saved healthcare costs and increased economic productivity.
STOP THE MYTH: “Foreign assistance is a bloated and wasted 25% of the federal budget”
3. FACT: The vast majority of taxpayers are in favor of public funding for foreign assistance.
Polls consistently show Americans believe the U.S. government should spend between 5-10% of our federal budget on foreign assistance. We spend less than 1%. Thankfully only a tiny fraction of the U.S. public holds an isolationist view, including aid’s strongest critics.
In fact, the Trump Administration’s efforts to reduce humanitarian forms of assistance (emergency, health, development) in favor of assistance to serve U.S. strategic interests go against American taxpayers’ priorities by overwhelming majorities. Recent polls Americans value and prioritize U.S. government foreign assistance as a moral act. A May 2017 University of Maryland survey found an overwhelming 81% say they favor “food and medical assistance to people in needy countries” (Republicans 73%, Democrats 90%) and only 5% of Americans wanted to eliminate foreign assistance (Republicans 7%, Democrats 3%).
Of course one can’t address the federal budget without considering the debt and again, even the most fiscally conservative acknowledge that neither the national debt nor the federal budget will be affected by cuts to the small amount of funding that goes to foreign assistance.
STOP THE MYTH: “Most taxpayers want to stop funding foreign assistance”
4. FACT: Women and girls are key to sustainable success.
Investing in women and girls through increased access to things like education, healthcare, water and sanitation, and agricultural tools and training yields huge returns for families, communities, economies and countries.
According to The Lancet, increasing investment in women and children's health by $5 per person per year until 2035, in 74 countries with a high burden of disease, could:
- Prevent 147 million child deaths, 32 million stillbirths, and 5 million maternal deaths
- Increase the investment up to 9 times in economic and social benefits
- Increase GDP through improved productivity
Investment in education must be prioritized. Failure to educate girls to the same standard as boys in 65 less-developed countries costs those countries $92 billion collectively every year, according to Plan International.
World Bank data show that the higher the level of a woman’s educational attainment, the fewer children she is likely to bear. Education and healthcare for women and girls dramatically reduces child marriage and infant mortality, which in turn also lowers birth rates because a woman will try to have fewer babies when fewer of her babies are likely to die. Putting aside the terrible tragedy of the loss of a child, the statistics bear this out: Households whose children have a 95% survival rate have two children, of whom an average of 1.9 survive, but households whose children have a 75% survival rate have six children on average, of whom 4.5 survive. So it’s not surprising that countries with high infant mortality rates also have the highest birthrates and the fastest growing populations in the world.
For more helpful stats on the link between women’s advancement and economic growth, check out UN Women.org.
STOP THE MYTH: “Reducing infant mortality sounds good but the hard reality is, the earth can’t sustain higher population growth, especially in unstable parts of the world”
5. FACT: Helping poor and sick children overseas does not take priority over children here at home.
There’s no question domestic issues should take budget priority -- and they always do. The modest funding to reduce diseases that kill and cripple children abroad does not reduce the funding spent to combat any issues that afflict the well-being of children here in the U.S. It is never either/or.
Not to be overlooked is how foreign assistance keeps infectious diseases, which know no political boundaries, outside our borders. It boosts developing economies, which positively reverberates in the U.S. through economic and job growth – and that helps American families.
STOP THE MYTH: “Helping poor and sick children overseas means we neglect American children”
6. Foreign assistance yields economic benefits for Americans.
When U.S. foreign assistance helps other countries economically improve, they can purchase American goods and services. This move from aid to trade is important for American workers. One in 5 American jobs is tied to trade and 1 in 3 manufacturing jobs is tied to exports, currently supporting more than 10 million jobs, with half of U.S. exports going to the developing world.
With 95% of the world’s consumers living outside of the U.S., even the poorest two-thirds of the world’s population represent $5 trillion in purchasing power. Exports are an essential driver in creating more and higher paying American jobs. These developing markets are growing at a far faster pace than many of our more traditional partners, making them central to the future of American economic prosperity.
Bill Gates says: “The point is not that aid directly makes poor people richer. It’s that aid helps create a foundation for growth. Along with many other factors, it helps remove some of the barriers that keep people from making the most of their talents. And when people in one place do better, the rest of us do better, too.”
STOP THE MYTH: “Foreign assistance doesn’t benefit the U.S.”
7. FACT: Transparency, independence and local leadership are U.S. foreign assistance priorities.
There’s no excuse for a dollar of taxpayer spending being siphoned off by corruption. The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, continues to address this concern by strengthening oversight and transparency of development finances. Tremendous progress has been made in the last ten years.
USAID doesn't go it alone -- some 60% of USAID’s funding goes to American non-government organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations (FBOs) and private American contractors. That means groups such as CARE, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services are the caretakers of foreign assistance dollars, which they implement in partnership with host governments and local NGOs.
That collaboration with host governments and local communities –- from vaccinations and agricultural training, to building stronger health systems and safe drinking water projects, does not create dependency. Quite the opposite. Improving health, infrastructure and economies helps families and communities become self-reliant; children survive to become strong, productive adults; the capacity of indigenous governments to respond to health and local development challenges is strengthened. Thanks to the level of success achieved so far, development is increasingly reliant on host government investments, local communities and private sector donors. That’s independence.
Many former foreign assistance recipients have graduated to become robust trade partners and foreign assistance donors. South Korea, once a leading beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, is now America's seventh largest trade partner, a vibrant democracy and a significant foreign assistance donor. As USAID points out, 43 of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products were once U.S. foreign assistance recipients.
STOP THE MYTH: “Foreign assistance creates dependency and corruption, and furthers colonial mentality”
8. FACT: Foreign assistance helps protect the U.S. from global health threats.
Diseases and pandemics know no political borders and pathogens are only a plane ride away. Stopping contagious diseases where they begin is in U.S. self-interest. Foreign assistance that improves health – from medicines and vaccines to electricity and toilets, can reduce, contain and even prevent a myriad of health threats, like Ebola, Zika, deadly influenzas and drug-resistant TB, protecting health for Americans at home and abroad.
Consider that Doctors Without Borders said a key reason the 2014 Ebola outbreak spread so fast was due to limited access to safe running water. Families who came in contact with an infected person or the deceased could not effectively wash their hands. Shocking, but not surprising, when one considers a recent survey by the University of North Carolina’s Water Institute that found the appalling lack of water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) in of all places -- healthcare facilities. Its 2018 review of data from 129,000 health care facilities in 78 low- to middle- income countries reveals:
- 66% lack soap and running water
- 50% lack piped-in water
- 30% lack access to a water source within 500 meters
- 33% lack basic sanitation facilities
Every year, 17 million women in developing countries give birth in healthcare facilities without adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. One million newborn deaths annually are associated with unclean births, with infections accounting for 26% of neonatal deaths, and 11% of maternal deaths. That according to the first-ever global report by WHO/UNICEF, based on data from over 560,000 healthcare facilities in 125 countries, which concludes two billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without basic water services and 1.5 billion people are impacted by healthcare facilities without sanitation.
Strategic foreign assistance must increase focus on building sustainable health systems.
STOP THE MYTH: “Diseases ‘over there’ don’t infect people in the U.S.”
9. FACT: U.S. foreign assistance is a key, bipartisan-supported component of U.S. national security.
Some citizens mistakenly believe that ‘national security’ is limited to defense and the Constitution permits only “military aid” abroad. A strategic balance of Defense, Diplomacy and Development has been, since World War II, bipartisan-supported U.S. national security foreign policy.
In fact, only a small amount of foreign assistance is carried out by the Department of Defense, during humanitarian emergencies to take advantage of its exceptional logistical capacities, or in dangerous conflicts where combat-ready soldiers are engaged in short-term development to win hearts and minds.
U.S. foreign assistance makes America safer by helping to make the world safer. Reducing poverty and increasing opportunity makes countries less prone to instability and conflict, mass migration and terrorism. The Pentagon agrees and is a stalwart supporter of non-defense diplomacy and development. When former U.S. Central Command Commander General James Mattis, now the Trump Administration's Secretary of Defense, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he famously said, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
America’s security interests and humanitarian ethics need to be secured. Countries such as Russia and China spend money on foreign assistance to gain influence and control over other countries. America needs to maintain its global leadership for security, economic and humanitarian reasons.
STOP THE MYTH: “Money for foreign assistance takes away from our military might”
10. FACT: The private sector actively funds and supports foreign assistance, but no one can replace the impact of U.S. government leadership, funding and influence.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, has been in the vanguard of donors in recognizing the important role of the private sector to development, most notably via the agency’s launch in 2001 of a program targeting public-private partnerships (PPPs) with well over 1,600 USAID PPPs initiated since then. (Find examples here.)
In fact, civic groups, corporations, philanthropy, other governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, faith-based organizations (FBOs) and local and faith communities, invest massive funding and expertise that collectively dwarf federal foreign assistance dollars.
FBOs are invaluable government partners. According to the Center for Faith & The Common Good, in FY16, 71 largest US FBOs in international assistance invested $6.79 billion, 83% from private dollars. 29 FBOs that receive public funding leverage it well, raising almost $5 for every public $1 received. This impressive amount of funding doesn’t even account for donations from local houses of worship and denominations.
FBOs are also experienced implementers, on the front lines and trusted by local communities. No doubt, American faith communities invite charity and generosity from all corners of the U.S.; teaching love for all neighbors and encouraging sharing our blessings with others.
Public and private sectors have unique and complementary roles to play. As a funding leader, Bill Gates makes himself hoarse on Capitol Hill reminding legislators that private funds and compassion can only solve so much. Federal funds don’t just leverage billions more in private dollars, the U.S. government is essential in launching global initiatives to eradicate diseases, setting international goals and strategies, providing an unparalleled convening role, working government-to-government to increase indigenous country capacity for economic growth, underwriting innovation in global health advances, negotiating price reductions on life-saving commodities, as well as providing critical levels of funding.
STOP THE MYTH: “The private sector can take care of needs in developing countries”
BONUS FACT: Progress is impressive, but need remains: According to WHO, 5.6 million children under age five died in 2016, that’s 15,000 every day -- most from preventable diseases. U.S. leadership can and must continue to help lead the way to a healthier, more secure and more prosperous future for all God’s children, near and far.
And that’s no myth.