U.S. foreign aid has a significant impact on people around the world, funding countries directly and indirectly through agencies such as the Department of State and Non-Government Organizations such as the World Food Programme. However, aid has been drawn back severely this year.
The State Department, which handles 35 percent of U.S. foreign aid, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), had $8 billion cut from its budget in 2011. According to the New York Times, this offers “the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades.” The amount of long-term money we can save from cutting foreign aid is minimal, and does not address the long-term budgetary problems of our country.
How much do we spend on aid? According to USAID, the U.S. spent $34 billion on economic aid to foreign countries in 2010. The 2010 fiscal year budget was $2.7 trillion, excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – $65 billion and $61 billion, respectively – according to the Washington Post. Excluding discretionary funding, this puts the portion of the budget devoted to aid slightly above 1 percent.
This is a drop in the bucket of our budget. Cutting from foreign aid does little to plug the growing budget deficit, which was a projected $1.28 trillion in 2011, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The money used for foreign aid does a lot more for the U.S. abroad than it does here. Our foreign aid maintains strategic alliances and gives humanitarian aid to countries that need it.
A large portion is devoted to Afghanistan and Iraq, where U.S. military involvement is currently being drawn down, as well as Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. Israel has regularly received $3 billion in funding annually, and Egypt and Pakistan have significant funding, as well. Since the death of Osama bin Laden, military aid spent on Pakistan appears of dubious merit, and funding of Israel remains controversial in light of harsh Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
These five nations receive $19.7 billion, while the other $14.3 billion of foreign aid is spent on the rest of the world. While the top five countries receive a disproportionate amount of aid money, the other countries still have made the lives of their citizens better with U.S. dollars.
USAID and the Department of State use this money to provide schools, roads, medicine and emergency food and water, as well as hundreds of other necessary functions. This money is more than just that – it’s also political capital and demonstrates goodwill. Attaching monetary aid to economic and political reforms has long been a strategy of the U.S.
This money could be used for the American people instead, but even if we stop foreign aid entirely, it would not come close to fixing our budget. Spending the money here would have nearly no visible impact on taxpayers in the U.S., while erasing aid abroad would be noticed by an increase in desperation and chaos in the world.