TACOMA, Washington — Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Samantha Power appeared before Congress to justify President Biden’s proposed International Affairs Budget. Specifically, both figures addressed the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to defend the Administration’s investment in international aid and diplomacy.
The Biden Administration requested $63.6 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of State and USAID for the 2022 Fiscal Year (FY2022). The request proposes a $6.3 billion, or 11%, increase in international affairs spending. The proposal prioritizes U.S. investment in global health programs, boosts development in Central America and renews international commitments.
Global Health Security
First, the International Affairs Budget prioritizes strengthening the United States’ ability to prevent and respond to future pandemics and global health emergencies. Specifically, the budget allocates $10 billion to fund global health programs and one billion dollars for global health security programs. Nearly half of the International Affairs Budget spending on global health programs will fund the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The demand COVID-19 has placed on health systems especially in low-income countries has heavily disrupted HIV testing and treatment services. So, there is a risk of a surge in HIV cases.
About one billion dollars of the budget will go toward multilateral efforts to combat COVID-19, provide vaccines against the virus and develop partner countries’ capabilities to detect and defend against future infectious disease outbreaks. Specifically, the budget pledges U.S. assistance to the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Program and the COVAX initiative, which has distributed vaccines to 138 countries. Lastly, the budget includes $2.3 billion to reduce child and maternal mortality, improve infant nutrition and promote family planning among families with limited access to medical services.
Boosting Central American Development
Next, the International Affairs Budget intends to boost economic development and improve security in Central America. The Biden Administration aims to limit poverty, protect vulnerable populations and create local economic opportunities in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to limit migration from the area to the United States. The budget calls for USAID and the Department of State to use $861 million to limit regional violence while increasing economic and educational opportunities.
In recent years, the economies of the Northern Triangle countries have been devastated by natural disasters, government corruption and violent criminal organizations. COVID-19, back-to-back hurricanes in November 2020 and the outbreak of a fungus that devastated the coffee bean harvest added to the preexisting fragility of the regional economy. Consequently, Since 2014, more than two million people have fled violence and poverty in the countries of the Northern Triangle.
Additionally, during her July 14, 2021 address to Congress, USAID Administrator Samantha Power outlined USAID’s plan to prioritize working through local partners rather than U.S.-based contracting partners. Principally, Administrator Power described USAID’s mission as to provide expertise to local leaders, entrepreneurs and civil society on how “to take the lead in their own country’s development.” While USAID’s past efforts to implement aid strategies through local partners have been time and resource-intensive, local leaders and businesspersons can offer perspectives and adjust USAID’s development strategy to fit the needs of the community and the local economic context.
Commitments to International Organizations
In addition to fighting global health crises and supporting Central American development, the budget proposal solidifies U.S. commitments to several international organizations. Secretary Blinken outlined the commitment. He stated, “We have a profound stake in its success, in engaging in the UN, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.” The budget aims to boost U.S. spending on U.N. peacekeeping operations by nearly $450 million to a total pledge of $1.93 billion.
The commitment to bolster support to the U.N. comes after President Biden agreed to restart $32.5 in funding to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and $150 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after the Trump Administration suspended U.S. aid to both organizations. The United States’ renewed aid to UNRWA is part of a U.S. pledge to provide more than $360 million in development assistance to Palestinians. Overall, the budget calls for $3.6 billion in pledges to international organizations.
Since President Biden’s election, congresspersons in both the U.S. House and Senate have called for the United States to strengthen its humanitarian aid and diplomatic efforts. In March 2021, a group of four lawmakers called for a $12 billion increase to the International Affairs Budget. Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Rep. David Cicilline and Rep. Ami Bera advocated for a 20% increase to the International Affairs Budget to confront the “rise of China’s global influence,” prevent the outbreak of future pandemics and support democracy around the world.
While the president’s proposed $6.3 billion increase fails to meet the group’s desired $12 billion increase, the Administration’s expansion in the International Affairs Budget marks a break in precedent from the previous administration’s attempts to decrease foreign aid spending. Altogether, the proposed budget strengthens the United States’ role in boosting global development while combating poverty and future pandemics.
– Zachary Fesen