The Catholic Campaign on Debt has been a strong part of the international coalition seeking debt relief for highly indebted poor countries. Last year's campaign achieved a major success when Congress approved the $435 million needed for that year's full funding of the United States commitment to international debt relief. This year we are seeking Congressional appropriation of the remaining $375 million needed for the United States to complete its part of the Cologne debt relief accord.
If Congress approved full funding of the U.S. debt relief commitment last year, why is more money being requested this year?
Last year's appropriation covered only the amounts needed to meet the US commitment for bilateral and mutilateral debt relief for this year. The $375 million now requested would be a multi-year appropriation, for 2002 and 2003, that would satisfy in full the rest of the United States commitment under the Cologne debt relief accord.
Why should we care about international debt, and how does it relate to foreign aid?
Debt deepens poverty because heavily indebted countries are forced to spend their scarce resources on debt repayments rather than on basic human needs, such as health care, schools, food production and environmental protection. Debt relief is not a stand-alone issue but rather is a critical element of a broader agenda to combat extreme poverty and to promote sustainable development in the poorest countries. Last year's successful debt relief effort provides the springboard to advocate a more comprehensive program combating extreme poverty. A comprehensive foreign aid policy is the appropriate vehicle for such a program.
Redesign of Foreign Aid
A recent proposal on foreign aid by Senator Jesse Helms and the "faith-based" initiatives of President Bush have heightened interest in foreign aid policy, giving us an excellent opportunity to advocate this year a reorientation of foreign aid towards poverty reduction. We will be seeking (1) a foreign aid authorization bill that gives urgent attention to health and education assistance for sub-Saharan Africa; (2) an increase in U.S. foreign aid funding as a social justice imperative; and (3) a redesign of foreign aid to ensure that a higher percentage of development and relief funding actually reaches the poor.
What is the Helms proposal?
Senator Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed to abolish the US Agency for International Development (US AID), and to replace it with a new International Development Foundation that would deliver block grants to community and "faith-based" relief providers (such as Catholic Relief Services). CRS already receives US government funds, through US AID. There is not yet sufficient detail for us to take a position on the Helms' proposal, but we support a redesign of foreign aid to ensure that a higher percentage of development and relief funding actually reaches the poor. We have long advocated for a larger percentage of foreign aid to be channeled through non-profit, private voluntary organizations supporting community-based development projects.
What legislative vehicles can be used to take forward a poverty-reduction agenda for US foreign aid policy?
The main legislative vehicle in recent years for foreign aid policy has been the foreign operations appropriations bill. But this approach, with its spending focus, has led to a patchwork foreign aid policy without a coherent structure. The legislative vehicle for foreign aid policy should be a foreign aid authorization bill, but Congress has been unable to pass such a bill since 1985. Whether in an authorization bill or an appropriations bill, we will advocate for a comprehensive foreign aid policy that addresses international poverty reduction goals.
What poverty reduction goals should be the focus of US foreign aid?
International poverty goals include halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, enrolling all children in elementary schools, and reducing infant and child mortality rates. We believe that efforts should focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the needs are most urgent. Statistics suggest that the trend-lines towards reaching the international poverty reduction goals are falling short of what is needed to accomplish the goals, largely because more is needed to address the overwhelming distress in Africa.
How does the US rank among other international donors in terms of foreign aid?
Despite being the world's wealthiest economy, the United States is the most miserly in terms of foreign aid spending. Our country ranks last among donors in foreign aid measured as a percentage of gross national product (GNP), at just one-tenth of one percent for the last two years. By comparison, the 1995 Copenhagen Social Development Summit accord (to which the US is a party) called for development assistance of at least 0.7 percent of GNP. While we cannot expect to achieve anything close to this figure in the near-term, the discrepancy between the international target and US performance gives a strong basis to advocate an increase in foreign aid spending as an imperative.
Is there support for increased foreign aid among the American public?
Surveys confirm that an increase in foreign aid spending would reflect the concerns of the American public. The University of Maryland published figures earlier this month indicating that 83% of respondents want the US to commit to a joint plan to meet international poverty reduction goals, and 81% want to maintain or increase priority aid to Africa. Perhaps most significantly, strong majorities indicated that aid should go beyond relief efforts and should embrace economic development efforts.
For more information: Fran Horner 202 541 3153