April 9, 2003
Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
I write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the relief and development agency of the bishops, to request your assistance on several provisions contained in H.R. 1559, the FY 2003 emergency supplemental appropriations bill, as you begin work on the conference report this week.
Currently, both the House and Senate versions of the bill give the Department of State the authority to disburse funds and make policy decisions regarding relief, refugee assistance and reconstruction efforts in Iraq. The Bishops are concerned about attempts to give the Department of Defense this authority instead. We urge that the final conference report retain the language contained in the bills passed by both the Senate and House. Congress should not only retain oversight and authority over these funds, as part of its constitutional responsibility, but should ensure that relief, refugee assistance and reconstruction will be provided effectively by agencies with proven experience and expertise in its delivery.
The Bishops' Conference urges an appropriation of $360 million for the Department of State's Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) account to address the needs of refugees and displaced persons who will suffer as a result of military intervention in Iraq. We also ask that the supplemental appropriation for the MRA be available until expended. While the Conference is pleased that both the House and Senate versions of the bill provide for a higher level of appropriation for the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) account than what was requested by the Administration, we favor the higher appropriation of $80 million for ERMA.
Finally, we commend the Senate for including $600 million in the FY03 supplemental for Title II food aid, and urge that this funding be retained in the conference report. We also urge conferees to accept the Senate language specifically restoring funds to previously-approved FY 2003 non-emergency programs. These provisions will enable humanitarian organizations to respond to the critical needs of the millions in the Horn and Southern Africa who continue to face the threat of famine and to be prepared to provide adequate humanitarian food assistance in the wake of the conflict in Iraq.
We thank you for your continued leadership at this difficult time, and for your consideration of these matters.
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Committee on International Policy