September 3, 2003
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
I write regarding the upcoming Senate consideration of the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, I urge you and your colleagues to find a way, in cooperation with the Administration, to meet our nations stated commitment to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa and the Caribbean, and to provide substantial additional resources to address global poverty through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA). The Catholic Church is one of the principal institutions serving needy people in Africa, including those suffering from HIV/AIDS. This experience only reinforces our conviction that meeting this commitment is a matter not just of dollars but one of moral responsibility.
The important leadership that the United States has demonstrated on the HIV/AIDS and MCA initiatives must not be undermined by the failure to fully fund these programs. Moreover, funding for these initiatives must not come at the expense of funding for existing development and humanitarian assistance programs. Falling short in critical programs will diminish us as a nation, and allow more death and disease, hunger and deprivation among the poorest people on earth.
The $18.8 billion that President Bush requested for foreign assistance in FY 2004 is the minimum that Congress should appropriate if we are to meet our nations commitment to assist the poor and vulnerable in the developing world.
The bipartisan HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis Act authorizes the appropriation of $3 billion in FY2004 to fight these deadly diseases. For the MCA, President Bush has requested $1.3 billion for FY2004. Unfortunately the Foreign Operations bill, as reported out of the Appropriations Committee, falls $1 billion short of the authorized funding for HIV/AIDS and $300 million short of the Presidents request for the MCA. Honoring these commitments in full, in a manner which promotes human life and dignity, could save countless lives and is essential to U.S. leadership.
For HIV/AIDS, some insist that the appropriation for FY2004 should not exceed $2 billion. They suggest that the affected countries lack the infrastructure and training necessary to absorb more funds effectively. We believe that it is this very lack of infrastructure and training that makes it essential to appropriate now a major share of the multi-year commitments our nation has made. Delaying the appropriation of any portion of the full $3 billion until later years will only delay the start-up of these crucial investments.
We also urge the Senate to appropriate $927 million for the Department of State's Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account and $50 million for the Department's Emergency Refugee Migration Assistance (ERMA) account for fiscal year 2004. This funding is urgent in order to meet the needs of an ever increasing global refugee population. This level of funding would help restore the role of the United States as world leader in refugee protection.
Finally, we would like to reiterate our strong support for retaining the Mexico City policy, which prevents our foreign aid program from being misused to subsidize organizations that perform and promote abortions in developing nations under the guise of family planning. We especially welcome President Bushs August 29 memorandum, ensuring that this policy will apply to all family planning grants to non-governmental organizations in the foreign assistance program. The Kemp-Kasten appropriations rider preventing support for organizations involved in coercive population programs should also be retained.
We urge the Senate to work with the President and the House to find a way to provide substantially increased funding for foreign operations at a time when the needs are so great and U.S. involvement and commitment to international development is so crucial to our national security and world stability.
We welcome your leadership in helping to alleviate poverty and disease in developing countries. We pledge to work with you, your Congressional colleagues and the Bush Administration to ensure that our nation fulfills its commitments and keeps its promises.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Committee on International Policy