WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) took to social media in April to come out against the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. He tweeted, “I agree w/ President Bush: slashing foreign aid would be a dangerous mistake.” Sen. Coons is a prolific advocate for the benefits of foreign aid and recently traveled to South Sudan to witness U.S.-funded assistance programs in action.
During his time in South Sudan, Sen. Coons visited towns in rebel-held areas where entire populations depend on humanitarian agencies for food. Since 2013, the U.S. has provided at least $1 billion toward humanitarian relief in the country. According to the United Nations, 100,000 people in South Sudan are on the brink of starvation and a further million are at risk of famine.
Speaking on the Senate floor upon his return, Sen. Coons remarked on the “impact [of]USAID and our programs to assist the hungry and needy around the world.” He also spoke of the multiple benefits of foreign aid, as a humanitarian good deed and as a national security interest: “Foreign assistance is not a charity. It serves a humanitarian purpose, but also makes us stronger.”
The current situation in South Sudan is dire. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), 4.9 million people — 42 percent of the population — are severely food-insecure and this number looks set to increase to 5.5 million by July 2017. According to Sen. Coons, the South Sudanese he met on his visit face life-threatening hunger and their government is not providing assistance. Under President Trump’s proposal, the $1.5 billion budget for the Food for Peace Program would be slashed, severely impeding any U.S. response to mitigate the current situation.
Sen. Coons is currently cosponsoring a bill with Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) which aims to accelerate the impact of food assistance programs for hunger-blighted areas of Africa. The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act (S.832) would improve efficiencies and speed up the delivery of food aid. This would be accomplished by eliminating provisions that require a certain percentage of food-aid be produced in the U.S. and shipped on American vessels. The bill also seeks to eliminate the requirement that 15 percent of food-aid is donated through aid organizations, saving millions of dollars a year.
During his recent speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Coons made the argument that the U.S. cannot maintain its status as a global leader through military power alone. He pointed out that the budget for diplomacy and development programs is less than one-tenth of the budget for national defense. Even with such a small outlay, these programs “provide a critical connection” and create a “positive understanding” of American values in key parts of the world.
Sen. Coons is acutely aware of the benefits of foreign aid and the devastating impact the Trump administration’s proposed cuts could have on overseas development, famine response and American leadership abroad. Sen. Coons is not alone in Congress in his appreciation for the value of foreign assistance and he remains confident that a bipartisan agreement to protect the foreign affairs budget will ultimately be achieved.
– Michael Farquharson