On November 6, 2000, President Clinton signed into law a foreign aid bill that fully funds debt relief for poor countries. This is a tremendous victory, which no one would have expected two years ago when we began this legislative push in earnest. Policy makers involved in this process attribute this victory to the grassroots campaign -- led by the religious groups!! -- that was based on a quixotic belief that we could turn the Scriptural call of Jubilee into concrete commitments on debt by our government.
The legislation that has been approved includes the following:
- $435 M in debt relief funding, most of which is for the U.S. contribution to the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Trust Fund, which will help speed debt relief to over 30 of the poorest countries, starting this year. This is the first contribution by the United States to this fund since it was created in 1996.
- Gold sales: the bill authorizes the IMF to spend an additional $800 M of earnings from the investment of gold sale profits for debt relief.
We in the US Catholic community - the dioceses, parishes, USCC and CRS - played a central role in this victory. Working closely with the many other mostly faith-based members of the Jubilee 2000 movement, we have been active in every phase of the debt relief campaign, from helping to draft congressional legislation and sponsoring high-level conferences to finding a hundred different ways to help build a campaign, from key interventions by our bishops to diocesan programs and letter-writing campaigns through our legislative networks.
Bishop Fiorenza has advised that the Holy Father has taken special note of the news of full funding and is aware that this action "was in large measure the result of some very proactive measures"of the US Catholic Church. The Holy Father has expressed his gratitude to the Church for its "effective work." Also, US Treasury Secretary Summers has written to Bernard Cardinal Law, Chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee, thanking him for the efforts of the Catholic Conference which he says were "instrumental" in winning Congressional support for full funding. The lion's share of the credit belongs to all of you! Congratulations!!!
It would be helpful, if you have the opportunity, to thank your Member of Congress for helping to give a fresh start for so many of the world's poor.
Looking to the future, the $435 million approved by the Congress takes care of the funding needs of the debt relief program through FY 2001 (ending next September 30). An additional $240 million will be required in FY2002, and we will need to do our best next year to assure that these funds are appropriated. However, with the precedent established this year with bipartisan support, we are hopeful that securing next year's much smaller amount will prove a less difficult task.
In the meantime, we will be monitoring the progress of implementation of the debt relief program by the IMF and the World Bank to see how effectively it is relieving the excessive debt burden of poor countries, and whether mechanisms are being put in place by debtor governments, with the participation of civil society, to assure that the benefits of the relief will reach the poor. Assessment of the results will form part of our review of USCC policies on foreign aid to poor countries which we will be undertaking in 2001.
For more information, contact: Gerry Flood or Joan Rosenhauer, U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, (202) 541-3199 or Kathy Brown or Kathy Selvaggio, Catholic Relief Services, (410) 625-2220.