5 Major Anti-Poverty Bills Passed in 2018


In 2018, American politics seemed to be fraught with dissonance and a lack of cooperation between parties in Washington. In the midst of all of this apparent chaos, hundreds of congress members and senators fought for legislation that would have a massive impact on downsizing global poverty in the coming years. With a new Congress in session and at the beginning of a new year, it is important to take a look at the five major of anti-poverty bills passed in 2018.

The BUILD Act of 2018

Signed into law on October 3 and sponsored by Bob Corker [R-TN], Chris Coons [D-Del], Ted Yoho [R-FL] and Adam Smith [D-WA], The Better Utilization of Investment Leading to Development Act (BUILD) establishes a new development finance corporation called the United States International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC). The purpose of this corporation is to ensure the flow of private capital into emerging markets to create jobs and opportunities for communities in developing countries.

The USIDFC will absorb already existing development finance corporations operating under the U.S. Government in order to build on the knowledge and expertise gained from years of investing in developing countries. The BUILD Act also gives the USIDFC a funding cap of $60 billion dollars, which is considerably larger than previous DFCs. It is argued that development programs that support private enterprises are much more effective than state-directed programs and reduce the chance of developing countries being left with massive amounts of debt.

Development finance corporations make it much easier for private companies to spend time and resources on projects that align with U.S. foreign policy initiatives that are often considered too uncertain for private investors. The IDFC has the potential to generate money for the U.S. Treasury after an initial period of public financing.

Congressman Ted Yoho told The Borgen Project, “It is time for a paradigm shift in the manner in which the United States administers aid, and that means involving the private sector. In 1961, more than 70 percent of capital flows from the richest to the poorest countries in the world were public sector foreign assistance. Today, that number has dropped all the way to just 9 percent, which means that 91 percent of capital flows from the wealthiest to the poorest countries are coming from the private sector. So, it is imperative we engage with the private sector.”

The PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was established in 2003 by George W. Bush and dedicated $15 billion for HIV treatment, prevention and care. At the time, this was the largest amount of money ever appropriated to combat a single disease and would become known as the greatest, most effective piece of foreign aid legislation.

In order to continue operating, PEPFAR requires reauthorization every five years. It was reauthorized in 2008 by George W. Bush and again in 2013 by Barack Obama. Just as his predecessors did, Donald Trump signed the PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018 on December 11, giving the program that has saved 17 million lives $30 billion in continued support and another five-year runway. The bill was sponsored by Bob Corker [R-TN], Robert Menendez [D-NJ], Chris Smith [R-NJ], Barbara Lee [D-CA] and 10 other Senators, Republican and Democrat alike.

The PEPFAR Extension Act of 2018 does not come without changes to the program though. At the World AIDS Day 2018 event, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the Trump Administration plans to invest $100 million in new resources toward faith-based organizations working with PEPFAR. This investment is likely to be redirected from other initiatives within PEPFAR since the same administration had pushed for a reduction of overall funding of the program in 2017 and 2018.

The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act

Sponsored by Ed Royce [R-CA], Karen Bass, [D-CA], Eliot Engel [D-NY] and Chris Smith [R-NJ], the new African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and MCA Modernization Act (originally the Millennium Challenge Act) will be able to make positive, systematic changes to the previous iterations of these acts. Much like the BUILD Act, this new legislation will bolster the economies of developing countries.

AGOA was first passed in May 2000 and provided countries in sub-Saharan Africa with preferential trade deals on the condition that the countries were making strides to improve their rule of law, human rights and labor standards. The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act will further support the original legislation by allowing for funds to be directed toward increasing public awareness of the programs and building a website.

In 2004, the Millennium Challenge Act established a development finance corporation called the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). The MCC has invested more than $12 billion in emerging markets to promote stability, reduce poverty and advance U.S. foreign policy. The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act gives the MCC resources to continue assisting those in need. They are now able to open additional contracts in a single country and increase reporting and transparency criteria for beneficiaries.

Regarding the new capabilities of the MCC, CEO Jonathan Nash said that the bill “enables MCC to become an even more valuable strategic tool for the U.S. to promote trade and investment, creating new opportunities for the private sector while increasing stability and security around the world.”

Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act

Currently, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced worldwide is the highest it has been since World War II, and fewer than half of those people have access to educational programs. The Protecting Girls Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act, sponsored by Marco Rubio [R-FL], Robert Menendez [D-NJ],  Steve Chabot [R-OH] and Robin Kelly [D-IL], was proposed to ensure that refugee children, especially young girls, are given the means to improve their living conditions by ensuring their education.

The bill passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate at the end of 2018 and will allocate resources in coordination with the U.N., the World Bank and local nongovernment organizations to better provide primary and secondary education to refugees while improving housing capacity, training and monitoring protocol.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, one of the initial sponsors of the bill said, “As a mother, I know how important education is for young people, especially for girls in conflict zones. When girls do not receive an education, it increases their risk for trafficking, enslavement and poverty. This bill will ensure that more girls are in school, learning and building a brighter future for all.”

Global Food Security Reauthorization Act

The Global Food Security and Reauthorization Act, sponsored by Robert Casey Jr. [D-PA], Johnny Isakson [R- GA], Christopher H. Smith [R-NJ] and Betty McCollum [DFL- MN], first passed through the House of Representatives with unanimous consent, then garnered a total of 133 cosponsors before finally becoming a law on October 11.

When asked about the universal support of the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act, Senator Isakson told The Borgen Project, “We have important reporting requirements to ensure the effective use of taxpayer money, and that appeals to everyone. The Global Food Security Act and our reauthorization legislation also help our agriculture community and researchers, and they are able to help develop and improve our global food security strategy. It’s a win-win-win program.”

The Global Food Security Act of 2016 established the Feed the Future initiative to reduce global hunger and food insecurity. Feed the Future has been extremely successful, bringing 23.4 million people above the poverty line and ensuring that 5.2 million families no longer suffer from hunger. The reauthorization bill will allow Feed the Future to continue working with foreign governments to improve their policies surrounding food security through to 2023 as well as expand reporting requirements.

Anti-Poverty Advocacy in 2019

Thanks to the bipartisan effort of American legislators, young women around the world will gain access to education, new investments in emerging markets are being made possible, those suffering from HIV and AIDS will continue to receive life-saving medical care and global hunger is one step closer to becoming a problem of the past. In 2019, more than $65 billion from both the private and public sectors will go to those in need.

The progress made by the five major anti-poverty bills passed in 2018 is cause for celebration, but millions of people around the world are depending on continued momentum going through 2019. Congresswoman Kelly, a sponsor of one of the five major anti-poverty bills passed in 2018, told The Borgen Project, “I heard from several young women, and I think that’s truly amazing. These young ladies are already thinking about making the world a better place and uplifting other people who are just like them.” In the coming year, representatives must be reminded that innovative anti-poverty legislation is a priority of the American people and a necessary component of a prosperous future for all.

John Chapman

Photo: Pixabay


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