SEATTLE, Washington — Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney has developed a well-deserved reputation for advancing U.S. foreign aid during his time in Washington. As House Representative for congressional district NY-18, he has co-sponsored numerous bills, including the Keeping Girls in School Act, the Global Health Security Act and the Global Food Security Act, all of which are key components of U.S. poverty reduction initiatives. Now, in an exclusive interview with The Borgen Project, Rep. Sean Maloney discusses the strides being made in U.S. foreign aid legislation.
Even prior to his political involvement, however, Rep. Maloney demonstrated a strong passion for foreign affairs and aiding the world’s poor. The congressman spent two years at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service before transferring to the University of Virginia, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in international relations.
Before moving on to receive a law degree from the University of Virginia, the Congressman first traveled to Samanco, Peru, where he spent a year participating in a Jesuit “Peace Corps style” volunteer program. There, the group worked to impact change at the community level, tackling irrigation, sanitation, nutrition and literacy.
“It was a real eye-opener. I lived in a grass hut with no running water,” Rep. Maloney told The Borgen Project. “I think the lesson for policy-making is that, until you can build solidarity with people who live in very different economic circumstances and who enjoy very different levels of healthcare security, it is hard to internalize the magnitude and urgency of the project.”
Rep. Maloney’s Work on Global Health
The Congressman’s firsthand experience living in an impoverished community has strongly informed his decision making in office, leading him to co-sponsor bills such as the Global Health Security Act, which elevates the importance of sustainable healthcare systems and takes measures toward preventing infectious disease outbreaks. The bill predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has only become even more relevant as the virus has brought a sense of urgency to improving global health. As Rep. Maloney explained to The Borgen Project, what he likes about the Global Health Security Act “is that it takes a proactive approach to [the hardships of the pandemic].”
“The idea,” said Rep. Maloney, “is that we really need to build a global infrastructure around what is called a global health security agenda, which is the idea to build capacity, to really manage infectious disease and to just be in a far more forward-leaning posture when it comes to what we know will be threats in the future.”
Rep. Maloney is on the House Agriculture Committee, which positions him to deal with these global health issues through the lenses of farming and infrastructure. He is currently working on a way to test municipal water supplies, which if put into practice, would provide advanced warnings of the presence of infectious diseases prior to the stage where affected individuals become symptomatic.
With regard to the Coronavirus, the Congressman informed The Borgen Project that “in the United States, if we tested every municipal water supply we have right now, DNA tests that are sensitive to 1 in 2 million people who might be infected… we would know and we would be able to trace back geographically if someone was carrying the Coronavirus. We would know that perhaps a week before that person presented at a hospital with symptoms.”
Questions and Answers
The Representative’s place on the Agriculture Committee also informed his co-sponsoring of other legislation, such as the Global Food Security Act. He called the legislation a “win-win for our [American] farmers… we want to do it [nutrition assistance globally]in ways that make sense, that are globally sustainable, that support our own agriculture. That’s what that legislation’s about, it just supports permanently what’s called the Feed the Future Program.” The Feed the Future Program is a government initiative that works with partner countries to develop agriculture projects and decrease poverty and hunger rates.
The Borgen Project asked Congressman Maloney about another piece of legislation that deals with global poverty reduction, the Keeping Girls in School Act. Rep. Maloney described this piece of legislation as focusing on “the fact that we know that there are specific barriers that girls face, in entering and remaining in secondary education institutions…We just want to use the strength, muscle and resources of the United States government to support efforts to empower women.”
Rep. Maloney connected this bill to the work of USAID: “in places like Afghanistan, where despite so many negative things that are still affecting that country, the work USAID has done in bringing women and girls back into civil society, into educational institutions, is really quite remarkable. And we should elevate that because I don’t think USAID gets the respect that it deserves. They have done extraordinary work there and a lot of private entities working with the U.S. Government as well. Not just in Afghanistan, but in large parts of the Muslim world where this has historically been a challenge.”
Foreign Aid Leadership
When asked what his constituents can do to support those experiencing poverty overseas, Rep. Maloney responded that “the biggest frustration with the conversation I often have with constituents around foreign aid is that there is a wild misunderstanding about how much we spend on foreign aid versus everything else… We actually spend a very small percentage of our overall federal discretionary spend on that type of assistance.” The Congressman continued by saying that “when we participate in things like the World Health Organization, even if it needs reform, when we show up with our moral capacity and really, by investing relatively small amounts of money, can create really powerful outcomes that have lasting benefits for us in terms of the partnerships we build. I just wish people knew how much we’re getting for what we’re spending.”
Rep. Sean Maloney is currently serving his third term in Congress and is running for re-election in 2020. He continues to take an active role in guiding U.S. foreign aid, with an understanding of why it is important for those in his position to act as allies to the world’s poor. “I do think that as a politician, the insight of building a relationship and an understanding on an individual level with people who are in very different circumstances is fundamental to building the kind of coalition and the kind of community that can bring real change.”
– Ava Roberts
Photo: Wikimedia Commons