WASHINGTON (October 21, 2004) – Funding for numerous refugee assistance and overseas development programs should demonstrate a "strong U.S. commitment to addressing the critical needs of the world's poor and most vulnerable," according to leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services in a letter to Members of Congress released today.
Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, who chairs the USCCB International Policy Committee; Coadjutor Bishop Thomas Wenski, who chairs the USCCB Migration Committee; and Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international development and relief agency, signed the letter.
Their letter highlighted the priorities of the bishops with respect to foreign aid, and urged the members of the House and Senate conference committee negotiating this year's foreign aid bill to take their concerns into consideration in reaching a final compromise bill.
Among the priorities they highlighted and the funding levels for which they offered support:
- Global HIV/AIDS: At least at the Senate-approved funding level of $2.417 billion for morally appropriate HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria programs.
- Commitments to Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and International Development Association (IDA): At least at the House-approved level of $105 million for debt restructuring and $850 million for IDA.
- Development Assistance Account: Senate-approved appropriation of $1.46 billion for Development Assistance. Many poor countries that fail to qualify for aid through other programs rely upon the core development and humanitarian accounts for critical needs.
- Millennium Challenge Account (MCA): Funding that is closer to $2 billion than the amounts provided in the House- and Senate-approved bills. They also support making permanent the authorization of up to 10% of MCA funds for threshold countries.
- Africa: Senate-approved $225 million for African Union-led peace monitoring presence and for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, western Sudan; also Senate-approved amount for reconstruction efforts in southern Sudan; similar efforts for post-conflict reconstruction and security in Liberia and in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly for Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo were also urged.
- Extractive Industries: Require a public accounting of revenues from extractive industries that resource-rich developing nations ought to invest in development for their people, especially the poor.
- Haiti: House-approved appropriations of $50 million from the Economic Support Fund (ESF) and the Senate-approved appropriation of $45 million for Child Survival and Development Assistance for Haiti.
- Migration and Refugee and Assistance (MRA): $927 million for the State Department's Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account, which funds the U.S. refugee admissions and overseas refugee assistance programs.
- Emergency Refugee and Migration and Refugee Assistance (ERMA): Senate-approved appropriation of $50 million. Refugee Admissions: Senate-passed provisions which would encourage more participation by private voluntary organizations (PVO) with expertise in the protection of refugees in identifying and processing refugee admission and resettlement to the United States; encourage the State Department to take the necessary steps to ensure that particularly vulnerable refugees are given special consideration for admission into the United States; and require the Secretary of State to submit a report to the congressional Appropriations Committees on the implementation of the refugee admission provisions under this section.
- Vietnamese Refugees: Senate-passed language which would permit in-country refugee processing in Vietnam, and refugee admissions for the sons and daughters of certain former Vietnamese reeducation camp prisoners through October 1, 2005.
- Public Interest Parolees: Senate-passed language which would provide desperately needed immigration relief to a group of Indochinese parolees who assisted the United States during the Vietnam conflict and who lawfully reside in the United States. Vietnamese Asylum Seekers in the Philippines: Senate-passed language which encourages efforts to resettle in the United States stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines.
- U.S. Policy Against Exporting Abortion: Removal of Senate-passed language nullifying the President's policy against funding non-governmental organizations that perform and promote abortion as "family planning, and language barring the President from redirecting UNFPA funds to combat trafficking in women and children.