Yet, less than 6/10 of 1 percent of the 2008 federal budget is dedicated to poverty-focused foreign aid, and only about 2.05 percent of the 2007 federal budget was spent on domestic food assistance. In terms of gross national product, U.S. foreign aid has historically been lower than almost every other industrialized nation. Moreover, only about half of U.S. foreign aid is used to alleviate poverty; the rest is used to pursue other aims such as influencing domestic policy of recipient nations.
However, increasing the amount of aid is not enough; The United States needs to take greater care to ensure its aid is effective. For example, consider aid directed toward building more schools. Prospective students may be prevented from attending school due to household responsibilities such as walking miles to haul water or caring for sick family members. Thus, educational aid may need to be combined with aid for digging wells or providing health care.
Coordination of aid requires concerted effort. Currently, U.S. development policies and programs are implemented by 12 departments, 25 agencies, and almost 60 government offices.
Another problem is that U.S. policies may interfere with effectiveness of aid. For example, U.S. subsidies on agricultural products can easily negate efforts to help farmers in developing countries.
The Global Poverty Act (GPA) would address these concerns. First, the GPA would establish as U.S. policy the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG). This goal is to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than $1 per day and reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, both by the year 2015. Second, the GPA would require the president to develop and implement a plan to achieve the first MDG by coordinating development aid, debt relief, and trade policies and taking into account efforts of other parties such as nongovernmental agencies.
Third, the GPA would require the establishment of specific benchmarks and timetables to measure effectiveness. Finally, the president would be required to report to Congress regularly on U.S. progress toward meeting the established objectives.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of implementing the GPA would be less than $1 million, a small sum to pay to increase the effectiveness of several billions of dollars in development aid. The GPA passed the House in 2007 and is currently pending in the Senate.
Bread for the World commends Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill. Readers are asked to urge Sen. Carl Levin to also give the GPA (S. 2433) his full support. We must act quickly, as Congress intends to complete the current session later this month.
Nancy Miller and Mary Johnson
Members of the Holland chapter of Bread for the World