WASHINGTON (March 28, 2001) -- The recent U.S. record on foreign aid is "scandalous, " according to testimony delivered to Congress today on behalf of the nation's Catholic Bishops, who said the time is opportune for a new dialogue on reshaping U.S. foreign aid policy.
"The United States, once the pioneer in foreign aid, now ranks dead last among donor countries in development assistance measured as a percentage of gross national product," the Bishops said in written testimony to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. "The United States should become the leader, both in policy and practice, in an international campaign to reduce poverty in the poorest countries."
The testimony was submitted on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Catholic Bishops in the United States; Catholic Relief Services, the Bishops' overseas relief and development agency; and the USCC's Department of Migration and Refugee Services, one of the country's largest private refugee resettlement agencies.
Father William Headley, CRS Deputy Executive Director, represented the groups in presenting the testimony before the Subcommittee today.
"The start of a new Congress and a new Administration presents us with a fresh opportunity to begin a serious dialogue about reshaping our country's foreign assistance programs and policies," he said. "The Catholic Bishops come here today seeking substantially more aid, more focused on global poverty reduction, and more effective in reaching the poor."
Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, illustrates the consequences of what the Bishops call a "disheartening pattern." While an estimated 300 million Africans live on barely 65 cents a day, U.S. aid to the continent has declined from its peak in 1985 of $2.25 billion to just under $1 billion in 1999.
"Let us not leave only crumbs from our table," Father Headley said, and urged an additional $1 billion for poverty reduction and education in the region -- enough to bring U.S. assistance to sub-Saharan Africa just above the bottom third of donors, he said.
Among other issues, the Bishops' testimony also calls for:
- increased funding for global health programs. Disease threatens to kill more than 20 percent of the populations in the hardest-hit African countries in the next 20 years. To stem the global health risk of just HIV/AIDS, the United Nations estimates that the bare minimum investment needed is $4 billion to $5 billion. The U.S. share, based on GNP, would be approximately 25%. The Bishops recommend $1 billion in added funding to address global health care needs, and urge that the warranted focus on HIV/AIDS not detract from other critical health issues.
- continued U.S. commitment to international debt relief. The Bishops expressed their gratitude for last year's full funding by the Congress of the U.S. commitment to international debt relief made at the Group of Seven Summit in Cologne in 1999. "This was an act of leadership and moral responsibility," they said. They asked that the commitment be maintained and that $240 million be appropriated for fiscal year 2002 to satisfy the Cologn commitment.
- decreased emphasis on population planning. The Bishops were critical of U.S. overemphasis on population planning programs as part of development assistance and global health programs. The United States dedicates four percent of its foreign aid budget to population planning, compared with less than one percent of most other countries' foreign aid budgets. They also reiterated their strong support for the internation consensus rejecting the use of abortion as a method of family planning and urged retention of the "Mexico City" policy reinstated by President Bush.
"We believe these three values -- human life and dignity, common good, and solidarity -- can be realized only when embraced by the community at large," the Bishops state. "Values have long been an important element of U.S. foreign policy. Providing effective programs to reduce poverty around the world is not only the right thing to do; it is a means of building a safer, more secure, and more peaceful world."