WASHINGTON (November 13, 2003) -- As the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill proceeds to conference, Catholic officials wrote to Senator Ted Stevens, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, to urge retention of Senate-approved amounts for HIV/AIDS and for the Millennium Challenge Account.
In the letter, Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, Chairman, Committee on International Policy, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Mr. Ken Hackett, President, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), offered a number of considerations on "matters of vital interest to the world's poor."
They expressed satisfaction with the direction of the Senate bill which provides $18.4 billion for foreign aid, including $2.4 billion to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and $1 billion for the Millennium Challenge Account. They noted, however, that the House bill contains significantly less funding for the critical HIV/AIDS and MCA programs and falls well short of the Senate bill in many other areas.
"Consequently, we urge you to do all you can to assure that the conference report includes the Senate-approved amounts for HIV/AIDS and at least $1 billion for the MCA," they wrote. "We hope that it is still possible to increase the MCA to the $1.3 billion that the President has requested. We also request that the conference report include the Senate-approved amounts for the World Bank's International Development Association ($976 million), Development Assistance ($1.4 billion) and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance ($40 million).
"Funding for each of these initiatives should be in addition to, not a substitute for, current funding levels for other health, development and humanitarian assistance programs," they said. "Meeting these national commitments to the poor in our world is not just a matter of dollars, but one of moral responsibility."
With respect to HIV/AIDS, Bishop Ricard and Mr. Hackett urged conferees to seek "a more effective and morally responsible global health program" by retaining Senate language that protects important provisions in the Global AIDS Act (P.L. 108-25), such as the conscience clause; and by eliminating language in Sec. 522 of the House version that exempts HIV/AIDS funds from the application of "any other provision of law" (with certain exceptions). The latter language would override not only the conscience clause but also other key safeguards against misuse of U.S. funds, including important aspects of the Helms amendment preventing funding of abortion-related activities. They urged that similar language be removed from the MCA title (sec. 305 (a)).
Concerning the MCA, the letter asked Sen. Stevens for leadership in assuring "that the authorizing language in the conference report emphasizes poverty reduction, particularly for Africa, and supports national development strategies designed and implemented with the participation of organizations that give voice to the needs of the poor."
The Church officials recommended retaining Senate provisions for "near-miss" or "second-tier" countries and the Senate language on the conditions for eligibility of lower middle-income countries; retaining the House cap of 15% for "near-miss" countries and the Senate cap of 20% for lower middle-income countries; and retaining House language that focuses on local input and the consideration of national development strategies for the development of a country agreement (Section 204 of H.R. 1950).
They also recommended including civil society on the Board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and establishing an advisory council as provided in the House bill (Sections 303 and 308 of H.R. 1950).
"We thank you for your leadership in addressing these matters of great urgency to the world's poor, especially in Africa," Bishop Ricard and Mr. Hackett wrote.