It is important to note before we begin that the foreign aid budget is supposed to be separate from the international affairs budget. Those budgets serve different purposes but tend to overlap because of how things are organized. This series will focus first on why we should think more positively about foreign aid.
What is foreign aid and how much does the US spend?
Foreign aid is an amount of money that a country gives to other countries for the purpose of global poverty programs. According to the Office of Management and Budget for the United States, approximately 0.6% of the budget is spent on foreign aid. (a)
With the US yearly budget being approximately $3.45 trillion, just 1% would be roughly $34.5 billion. It is nearly impossible for us to comprehend just how much money that is, and consequently, how to properly distribute it. The United States is a very large country with involvement in many areas and a matching budget is appropriate. $34.5 billion is a lot of money but it's actually a small amount compared to what is needed. (a)
The United States is in a lot of debt to many countries and cutting down the budget is one way to help solve the problem. However, budget cuts must be done wisely. Spending in areas such as foreign aid is important. As long as international relations exist, there is a need for foreign aid. Politics aside, this is a human to human issue.
There is a lot more to foreign aid than just throwing around money. How aid is distributed and regulated is important too. We will discuss this further in the next part of this series.
Why should we give money to other countries? What about our own people?
The number one argument against foreign aid is the idea that the money going to other countries could be used in the United States instead.
First, let us consider that a budget for aid in the US does exist. Whether it's in the form of public aid (Medicare, food stamps, etc) or education, it is there. There are hundreds of programs paid for by the government to help its people. However, the effectiveness and reliability of those programs is often debatable. An increase in funds alone will not solve those problems.
There is not a hypothetical tug-of-war between US aid and foreign aid. Each area has been strategically designated for their own purposes. In other words, do not be mistaken in believing that a decrease in foreign aid funds will automatically result in an increase in US aid funding. That money could either be distributed across the entire budget, or disappear altogether.
It is no question that the people in the US are in need of assistance. We have people who are homeless, starving, lacking education, lacking access to medical care, and more.
While it may be true that our leaders either created the problem, or ignored it for too long, we cannot continue to wait on them to change the situation we have. It is important to push our representatives to make change happen, but even if progress is being made, it is a slow process.
If your argument against foreign aid is that we need help in our own country, then let me ask you this- What have YOU done to make a difference?
This is not a guilt trip but a call for action. Lend your voice, lend a portion of your time, and help those who need it. Stop dismissing the idea of foreign aid because you're tired of seeing your own people suffer. We have the resources to help our own.
To learn more--
Fiscal Year 2013 Budget for the United States (a)
Busting the Myths Surrounding Foreign Aid via the ONE Campaign
Written by Sarah Frederick