Inflammation and stories on congress

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

Desert Locust Control ActDue to a recent outbreak of desert locusts in East Africa, the 117th Congress has written and introduced the H.R 1079 – Desert Locust Control Act on February 15th, 2021. In general terms, this act would “develop a comprehensive, strategic plan to control locust outbreaks in the East African region and address future outbreaks in order to avert mass-scale food insecurity and potential political destabilization.”

The Act Explained

In more specific terms, the Desert Locust Control Act would create an interagency working group that comprises several representatives from varying federal departments and agencies carrying out the act’s requirements. These duties would include monitoring the effectiveness of regional efforts to mitigate the outbreak and finding opportunities for additional support. Furthermore, the act asks to ensure the delivery of necessary assets to control the outbreak and provide humanitarian assistance to those affected. Lastly, the act would improve coordination among the involved government agencies, relieve the impact of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and work to prevent future desert locusts as well as other potentially harmful outbreaks.

What Desert Locusts Cause

This act has become necessary for a variety of reasons. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that as of December 2020, there were 42 million people suffering from food insecurity in East Africa. This number will increase if the locust outbreak is not handled. It becomes especially disheartening when considering the highly destructive nature of the desert locust. A small swarm can eat enough food for 35,000 people in one day, while a larger swarm can devour enough to leave 81 million people starving. It’s important to note the urgency of the situation as well. By June of this year, the number of desert locusts could increase by 400 times, due to there currently being favorable weather conditions for their breeding and each locust generation increasing by 20 times on average.

Problems Amplifying the Crisis

Another concerning factor of this recent outbreak is the economic damage to these countries, with locust-related losses being estimated at $8.5 billion for livestock production and asset damages. Furthermore, COVID-19 regulations have already created unfavorable conditions for agricultural production by disrupting supply chains, transportation and access to services and labor. These conditions have consequently increased the chances for a potential food security crisis in the past months. The desert locust outbreak only compounds these issues and creates a crisis within a crisis, making a worse situation out of an already dire issue. Unfortunately, the desert locust will also place vulnerable citizens, including women and children, into further vulnerability, when accounting for the fact of the eventual increase in crime due to food shortages. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), has estimated that 5,000 households, especially those run by women, will need humanitarian assistance by August of 2021.

The immediacy of this outbreak, the drastic results and the economic and political difficulties present, have made it necessary for the U.S. and other foreign countries to involve themselves and provide assistance. As evidenced, the Desert Locust Control Act will be crucial for the well-being of several impacted African countries as the second wave is almost 20 times larger than the first one. Due to this, African communities will need foreign aid in order to safely and effectively nullify this issue.

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr

Congressman raises awarenessAs a California representative, Congressman Ted Lieu has been a voice in the fight against global poverty and an advocate for increased foreign aid. The congressman raises awareness of global poverty in interviews and by taking action in Congress.

Personal Background

Congressman Lieu’s story is inspirational. He came to the United States at 3 years old when his family immigrated to the country. Initially, the Congressman’s family sold trinkets at the local flea markets but grew to own a gift store where Lieu worked. The family continued to expand its business to open several other stores. Because of his hardworking parents, Lieu attended Stanford University, receiving undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Computer Science and attended Georgetown University, receiving a law degree magna cum laude. After graduating, he served in the United States Air Force for several years and then worked at a law firm as a litigator.

Since California elected him in 2014, Lieu has been an active voice for national issues. Still, he has also found importance in addressing global issues such as global warming and global poverty. Recently, Congressman Lieu expressed how elections impact issues of extreme poverty. He looks at Congress as a powerful force for addressing global poverty since U.S. Congress controls how much aid the United States provides to other countries. Lieu believes in building a better world. There is also mutual benefit in foreign aid because investing in other countries improves U.S. national security and also strengthens the U.S. economy and diplomatic relations.

In an interview, Congressman Lieu presents how addressing climate policies can also indirectly help combat global poverty. Lieu points to how extreme poverty is affected by climate change the most because harsh weather and droughts make it harder for those in poverty to provide for themselves.

Raising Awareness

Congressman Lieu advises people to learn more about global poverty to see how they can contribute. He mentions finding a way to use one’s strengths to get involved, whether it be volunteering in foreign countries, volunteering with a nonprofit organization or donating to organizations focused on global poverty. Congressman Lieu sees his role in Congress as an important platform to address poverty on a global scale.

Congressman Lieu has voiced his opinion on global aid to his constituents and in Congress as well. He co-sponsored the Global Health Security Act of 2021, which focuses on addressing global diseases by forming a council that would focus on reaching U.S. commitments of aid to foreign countries. The congressman also co-sponsored the Robust International Response to Pandemic Act “to ensure international financial institution support for a robust international response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.” The act would also allow the use of Special Drawing Rights to allow foreign governments to obtain additional resources to finance their fights against COVID-19.

The Congressman raises awareness of global poverty in connecting with his constituents and in Congress with his vote. As seen with his sponsoring of bills in Congress, Congressman Lieu refuses to overlook the importance of international aid and encourages other global citizens to do the same.

– Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

South Sudan ActWhile Sudan is home to beautiful landscapes and countless wildlife, women in the country face several issues. Activists in South Sudan say parties to the 2018 peace deal are violating a particular provision that calls for 35% of legislative positions to consist of women. In light of the ongoing struggles of women in South Sudan, the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act was introduced to Congress.

H.R. 116

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee introduced H.R. 116, also known as the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act, to the House of Representatives on January 4, 2021. It is currently under review by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill requires “that activities carried out by the United States in South Sudan relating to governance, reconstruction and development and refugee relief and assistance support the basic human rights of women and women’s participation and leadership in these areas.”

Women consist of 60% of the population in South Sudan but still face the most hardships. Furthermore, more than 80% of Sudanese women are illiterate and 50% of girls under the age of 18 are married, contributing to a higher rate of maternal mortality. Gender-based violence is prevalent for women in South Sudan and abortion is still illegal even in circumstances of rape. The law of the country does not protect women due to the prevalent use of customary law, which often discriminates against women and minorities.

Current Challenges in South Sudan

South Sudanese women still face a violation of their human rights but continued support from the U.S. can ensure that women’s progression, since July 2011 when the Republic of South Sudan gained independence, will continue. The U.S. has already made considerable contributions to emergency relief and humanitarian efforts in South Sudan. Still, to ensure the protection and advancement of women as well as overall stability in the country, there needs to be a long-term investment in the development and reconstruction of South Sudan. A significant concern is that inadequate healthcare in the country means a high maternal and infant mortality rate. The maternal mortality rate is 1,054 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest rates globally.

South Sudan faces issues with its infrastructure, which hampers human development and marginalizes women. Due to high illiteracy rates in the country, it is essential to secure and inform women of their rights. International aid can support local women’s organizations and can include equality in efforts for the country’s development. Humanitarian and development programs that the U.S. sponsors can help girls and women exercise their human rights. The U.S. can also help South Sudan include more women in politics.

Proposals of the South Sudan Act

South Sudanese women should be integral to policy-making efforts relating to the governance of South Sudan. This equates to the involvement of more women in all legislative bodies and ensuring that women’s rights form part of the constitution and other legislative policies. Furthermore, regarding post-conflict reconstruction and development, the U.S. should guarantee that a significant portion of  U.S. developmental assistance and relief aid goes to women’s organizations in South Sudan.

The U.S. should also promote female-centered economic development programs, including programs that support widows, female heads of household, rural women and women with disabilities. Furthermore, it is important to “increase women’s access to ownership of assets such as land, water, agricultural inputs, credit and property. ”

These are just some of the directives of the Equal Rights and Access for the Women of South Sudan Act. Overall, the Act calls on the U.S. as a global leader to take action to prioritize women in South Sudan so that women can advance and progress. Women form an integral part of poverty reduction, which is why gender equality is so important. Uplifting women in South Sudan means reducing poverty in the country. For truly lasting global change, women’s empowerment is essential.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

4 Incoming Members of the 117th Congress Who Could Shape America’s Approach to Foreign Aid
At least 65 representative-elects and senator-elects joined the 117th Congress in January 2021 to serve with a president who wants to “bring aid back to the center of our foreign policy.” The next two years could represent a sea of change in the U.S.’s approach to foreign policy and foreign aid under an administration committed to global development. Several new representatives want to increase foreign aid and improve the U.S.’s approach to peacekeeping and diplomacy. Here are four new members of the 117th Congress who could shape the U.S.’s approach to foreign aid.

4 New Members of the 117th Congress

  1. Sara Jacobs (CA-53) served as a policy advisor to the Hillary Clinton 2016 Presidential Campaign. Jacobs has worked to end child poverty through her nonprofit San Diego For Every Child. Jacobs was elected to represent California’s 53rd district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Foreign Policy for America Action Network, a non-partisan advocacy organization that promotes safe foreign policy and endorses a slate of candidates each cycle who are believed to serve on key committees or lead on key legislation, endorsed Jacobs. The organization stated that she is ready to tackle issues such as immigration reform and global health on day one. According to Jacobs’ website, she supports protecting and maintaining current funding levels for USAID. However, she also supports properly funding the State Department and USAID to maximize efficiency.
  2. Mondaire Jones (NY-17) has worked in the Department of Justice and provided legal counsel with the Legal Aid Society. When inaugurated, he and fellow New York Representative-elect Ritchie Torres will be the first openly gay Black men in Congress. Jones promotes a “Diplomacy-First” foreign policy, sharing the belief that if the U.S. can dedicate more funding to foreign aid. He has criticized budget cuts to USAID (the president’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget provided $41 billion for USAID, as opposed to $50 billion in the FY 2016 budget) and plans to push for reinvestment in the State Department to allow the U.S. to take initiatives in humanitarian efforts. According to his website, Jones supports redirecting funds designated for conflict and weapons sales toward aid and promoting peace and development in foreign countries.
  3. Jake Auchincloss (MA-4), a former city councilor, was recently elected to the district formerly held by Joseph Kennedy III. With an extensive background in foreign policy and service in Panama and Afghanistan, Auchincloss supports a nuanced apportionment of foreign aid. Auchincloss advocates for a recommitment to “the types of foreign aid programs that strengthened America’s alliances and improved our security in the 20th century.” He supports continued aid to countries like Iraq in combatting COVID-19 and terrorism, and he wants the U.S. to commit to increasing foreign aid. Like The Borgen Project, he believes that foreign aid is a national security asset to the U.S.
  4. In June, Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), a Bronx middle school principal, defeated 16-term incumbent Eliot Engel. Bowman has emphasized the necessity for a foreign policy that gives voice to developing nations, particularly in Africa, as those countries emerge as world leaders on the global market. Bowman also supports a new Marshall Plan, which lent assistance to Europe after World War II. This new Marshall Plan put forward by Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-20) is meant to address the economic and social disparities in Central America that have led to mass migration, poverty and violence. By addressing the root causes of these issues, Bowman believes the U.S. can help millions of vulnerable people.

A Look to the Future

Jacobs, Jones, Auchincloss and Bowman have come out in favor of innovative solutions to addressing global poverty. However, any of the new members of the 117th Congress could advance the U.S.’s approach to foreign aid. The bold approaches put forth by some of these representatives have the potential to set a standard for the future of U.S. foreign aid as Congress takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and faces a changing foreign and economic landscape.

– Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Congress advocating for foreign aidThere is plenty of debate on the significance of foreign aid as well as a lot of misconceptions. John F. Kennedy once said regarding foreign aid, “…our economic obligations as the wealthiest people in a world of largely poor people, as a nation no longer dependent upon the loans from abroad that once helped us develop our own economy – and our political obligations as the single largest counter to the adversaries of freedom.” Although foreign support is met with resistance from some, the majority of Congress and its constituents see the importance. According to a Chicago Council survey in 2019, 69% of Americans thought it would be best for the U.S. to take an active part in world affairs. However, 30% thought the U.S. should not be involved at all. Despite attempts to cut the budget and its value put in question, there are many members of Congress advocating for foreign aid.

U.S. Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is funding allocated from the United States’ budget for global health programs. It also goes towards U.S. military training, United Nations peacekeeping and global development assistance. There are many aspects in which U.S. foreign aid is beneficial to the entire world. For example, foreign aid increases national security. U.S. foreign aid does this by helping alleviate the poor conditions that lead to terrorism by stabilizing poverty-stricken and conflicted countries.

When other countries are doing well, there is more exchange for American goods and the increase of global trade partners. Giving aid to others also improves our nation’s diplomacy and higher position in world leadership.

According to most opinion polls, Americans think about 25% of the U.S. budget goes to foreign assistance. However, in reality, it’s significantly less. In 2018, the United States allocated an estimated $46.89 billion to foreign aid which is only about 1% of the total federal funds. Many political leaders are aiming to protect and increase the foreign assistance budget. Here are just a few of the many members of Congress advocating for foreign aid.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH

One of the members of Congress advocating for foreign aid is Senator Shaheen. She is currently serving as the senior United States senator from New Hampshire. Senator Shaheen is also a member of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations. She advocates for a strong and clear foreign policy to restore and sustain global relations and national security. She co-sponsored The Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act of 2009. This is a bill aiming to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and transparent.

Shaheen also raised concerns about foreign aid budget cuts. She said there is too much humanitarian work needed in the world right now.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ

Senator Menendez served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 113th Congress and is now a ranking member. He is serving as Senator of New Jersey and has a reputation for his global leadership and staunch commitment to helping others. While Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he sought to modernize foreign policy and give substantial support to the most vulnerable; always advocating for the underdog. In regards to cutting the foreign aid budget, he equated it to cutting funding for human rights and democracy which he states doesn’t speak to the nation’s core values.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL

Currently serving as a Majority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and senator of Florida, Senator Rubio has advocated the importance of bolstering foreign aid and foreign affairs stating, “foreign policy is domestic policy”. For instance, Senator Rubio has been noted to advocate for global engagement through foreign aid. In acknowledgment of past suggested budget cuts, he responded that retreating from global engagement is bad for national security and our economy.

Strengthening the Foreign Aid Budget

The many members of Congress advocating for foreign aid understand the importance of protecting and maintaining a healthy budget for foreign assistance. Foreign policy is a non-partisan interest and it benefits the entire world. Foreign policy is not charity, it is imperative for the nation’s diplomacy, security and economy. For all developed countries and global leaders, assisting developing nations is also a matter of human rights. It also concerns maintaining peace and prosperity for all. In conclusion, when we help others, we help ourselves.

– Tara Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

the House Committee on Foreign AffairsThe House Committee on Foreign Affairs oversees all legislation relating to foreign policy in the United States House of Representatives, including foreign policy and issues of national security. There are 47 representatives currently serving on the Committee. They consist of 21 Republicans and 26 Democrats. The corresponding committee in the Senate is the Committee on Foreign Relations. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is one of the most influential parts of Congress. It has played a significant role in shaping the United States foreign policy. Here are five facts about this important Congressional Committee.

5 Facts About the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

  1. In 1775, the Continental Congress created a committee to oversee relations with foreign powers. Its original name was the Committee of Secret Correspondence. In 1777, the committee changed the name to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. The powers of the committee evolved over the next few decades with the creation of the other branches of the federal government. However, it maintained its role of supervising foreign policy issues for the legislature. In 1822, Congress formally established the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as a standing committee.
  2. It has had many noteworthy members in its recent history. Many influential representatives have served on this committee in the past decade, including Republicans Ron Paul, Mike Pence and Ron Desantis and Democrats Tulsi Gabbard and Howard Berman. The current roster includes Democrats Ilhan Omar and Joaquin Castro. These prominent representatives have all influenced the ideology of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. For example, Ilhan Omar has advocated for developing countries to receive economic support during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has helped to make foreign aid a larger aspect of the Committee.
  3. It has a subcommittee that oversees global humanitarian issues. One of its six standing subcommittees is the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations. This subcommittee has regional jurisdiction over legislation that relates to Africa. In addition, it has functional jurisdiction over topics such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Peace Corps and legislation relating to maternal and child health. These topics have an especially large impact on the global poor. However, one of its most important functions is the influence it has over the promotion of human rights and the protection of vulnerable and impoverished people around the world.
  4. It unanimously passed the Global Child Thrive Act. The Global Child Thrive Act is a bill that would give the U.S. Agency for International Development greater authority to include early childhood development aid in the foreign assistance it provides. Children living in extreme poverty often do not have access to the education and support they need as their brain develops. Studies have shown this can have negative cognitive and emotional effects. In December 2019, the Committee unanimously passed the bill. Giving the bill bipartisan support in the Committee makes it more likely that Congress will pass it. This legislation would make a huge difference for children in developing countries around the world.
  5. It passed the Global Health Security Act. Virginia Representative Gerald Connoly introduced this legislation in early 2019. It includes several measures to ensure that the United States is better prepared to deal with the spread of diseases around the world. For example, it requires a Global Health Security Coordinator to manage the response of the government. This would make a huge difference in combating the spread of COVID-19, especially for poor and developing countries. The bill was passed by the Committee on Armed Services and the House Intelligence Committee before going to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill in early 2020, and it is currently awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.

All Congressional committees have a large amount of influence over their respective policy areas. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs is one of the most important governmental bodies for shaping the foreign policy of the United States. It oversees many bills that relate to global poverty and has influenced the House of Representatives to pass many critical pieces of legislation. The actions of the Committee have a large impact on the way the U.S. interacts with the rest of the world.

Gabriel Guerin
Photo: Wikimedia

YouthBuild International Act
Around the world, over 200 million youth live in extreme poverty, earning less than $2 a day. On February 12, 2020, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, introduced her sponsorship for the YouthBuild International Act. The Act aims to amend and improve upon the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. In doing so, it strives to program educational opportunities and employment training for underprivileged youth in developing countries.

The bill adds a new point to Section 105 of the indispensable Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Following the original Act, the bill adds: “Program to provide disadvantaged youth in developing countries with opportunities to receive education and employment skills.” Following this broad point, the text describes five distinct goals for the bill: economic self-sufficiency, community engagement, leadership development, affordable housing and improvement of facilities.

Goals of the Bill

To begin, the bill states its goal to make higher education and employment skill-training more accessible to underprivileged youth. By providing these opportunities, the bill aims to equip youth with economic self-sufficiency. Secondly, the bill promises to provide poverty-ridden youth with opportunities for “meaningful work and service to their communities.” Thereafter, the bill promises to enhance the development of marketable leadership skills for youth in low-income communities.

Next, the bill proposes the establishment of affordable and permanent housing initiatives for homeless and low-income families. The final section of the bill promises to improve the energy efficiency and overall quality of community facilities. This is meant to benefit nonprofit and public facilities that protect homeless and low-income families. Youth participants in the program will contribute directly to these efforts.

Domestic Success

The potential for the YouthBuild International Act is demonstrated by the successes of the United States YouthBuild program. That program provides educational, employment and leadership opportunities to thousands of young Americans who lack education and employment. As of 2019, 70% of YouthBuild participants earned a certificate or a degree, 62% improved their literacy or mathematical skills and 54% gained earned education or employment.

Next Steps

The positive results of the United States YouthBuild program prove how successful the YouthBuild International Act could be. However, the odds are not in this bill’s favor. Although Congresswoman Omar introduced it nearly six months ago, the bill has neither gained any cosponsors nor moved past the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Act remains stagnant despite its immense potential for change. According to Skopos Labs, the bill only has a 3% chance of being enacted into law.

Although domestic poverty legislation is more pressing than ever, these issues must not put foreign aid on the back-burner. It is vital to bring awareness to under-supported aid legislation, especially when it can lead to economic self-sufficiency. Passing the YouthBuild International Act could significantly uplift millions of vulnerable communities and break the cycle of poverty for future generations. This will not happen unless more Americans contact their senators and representatives about the YouthBuild International Act and other under-prioritized aid legislation.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

undervalued foreign aid
If there is one certainty about the process of lawmaking, it is that enacting a bill into law requires persistence. Thousands of bills never pass the House of Representatives, much less receive the Senate or Presidential approval. This is especially true when it comes to the way Congress undervalues foreign aid. Govtrack.org allows anyone to view who cosponsors pending bills and track the bill’s progress through Congress. Even more telling, however, is the website’s indication of the probability that any given bill will be enacted into law.

Nonprofit organizations like The Borgen Project mobilize thousands of Americans to contact their elected officials in support of foreign aid and international relief. Nevertheless, bills regarding foreign assistance commonly have prognoses under 5%. Compared to the prognoses for bills regarding homeland security and domestic business protections, these numbers highlight the lack of urgency for foreign aid at the federal level. In the fiscal year for 2019, foreign assistance comprised less than 1% of the federal budget. Given the growing severity of humanitarian crises amidst the pandemic, why does Congress continue to undervalue foreign aid?

A Bipartisan Call For Support

A common misconception exists that Republicans are the main cause of undervalued foreign aid. Democrat-identifying voters at large typically prioritize foreign aid more than Republicans. However, Congress members in both political parties lend their support and cosponsorship to undervalued foreign aid bills. Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have installed effective foreign aid initiatives. Recently, Congress members from both parties rejected President Trump’s proposal to cut to the International Affairs Budget by one-third.

While bipartisan protection of the existing aid budget is optimistic, senators and representatives are slow to demonstrate support for pending legislation. For example, the Global Fragility Act has gained a modest 20 cosponsors since its introduction in April 2019. Its prognosis, like many similar acts, stands at 3%. In contrast, an act entitled H.R. 1252: To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 6531 Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys, California, as the “Marilyn Monroe Post Office” garnered 50 cosponsors and received enactment within a year.  When new bills and initiatives lack attention and cosponsorship, it is difficult for foreign aid to create widespread benefits. This is especially true in an unprecedented time of crisis. Oftentimes, seemingly non-urgent and low-impact acts gain more congressional momentum than urgent and potentially life-changing foreign assistance. This observation indicates a disparity in support of domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Benefits As An Obstacle

Generally, undervalued foreign aid lacks impetus because of the framework that Congress created around foreign aid as early as World War II. From World War II to the Cold War era, support for foreign aid depended on how much that bill could bring domestic benefits back to the United States. This precedent informs how Congress evaluates foreign aid to this day. Senators and representatives often select foreign aid based on the likelihood of it bringing economic benefits to their particular geographic region.

While it is natural for elected officials to consider the American economy, an empirical question exists as to whether foreign aid realistically compromises American interests. In short, it does not. Foreign aid, specifically when USAID drives it, brings billions of dollars to the American economy each year. This has been the case since the late 20th century.

Combating Domestic Fear

Another notable reason for why Congress undervalues foreign aid is the fear of benefiting autocratic governments. This contributed to the lack of foreign aid during the Cold War, and this fear surged once again in the early 21st century in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foreign aid bills that grant basic resources to civilians rather than governments lack support from Congress based on these anxieties. However, to generalize about developing countries based on preconceived fears or stereotypes only blocks progress, both domestically and abroad. Congress is more than capable of making informed decisions about foreign aid without compromising the security of their constituents, who call in support of pending aid legislation more often with each international crisis and tragedy.

Stella Grimaldi
Photo: Flickr

John Lewis
John Lewis was an American civil rights leader and activist, a respected representative for Georgia’s fifth congressional district for over 30 years and a champion for reducing global inequalities. John Lewis introduced or sponsored at least 23 bills and resolutions that influenced U.S. foreign relations, humanitarian aid and advocacy. While some of his bills did not pass at the time, John Lewis’s globally-minded legislative style set a precedent for advocating for the world’s poor through legislative action.

Timeline of John Lewis’s Foreign Affairs Legislation

1999-2000

Under the Clinton Administration, John Lewis sponsored H.Con.Res.348. This resolution officially declared that Congress condemns the use of children as soldiers in any context. It provided guidelines on addressing the use of child soldiers, reintegration approaches for former child soldiers and incentives for foreign armies or organizations to dismantle exploitative child soldier systems.

2007-2008

Under the Bush Administration, Lewis sponsored H.R.2522, which defined modern-day slavery and enabled the government to better restrict it. Lewis’s bill called for a congressional commission to address the ways global modern-day slavery creeps into economic systems. The bill addressed how modern-day slavery targets vulnerable populations and requires intervention. This legislation would have also affected U.S. trade relations at the time, pressuring the government to halt trade with nations known to endorse modern-day slavery.

In 2008, Lewis introduced H.RES.1169. This resolution pushed the U.S. to advance its stance on eliminating discrimination and all forms of human or civil rights abuses. The resolution had both a domestic and international focus. It proposed to recommit several NGOs and governmental bodies that promoted equity.

2009-2010

Under the Obama Administration, Lewis reintroduced H.RES.1169 with slight wording changes. This resolution continued to advocate for the U.S. to step up as a global human rights leader. That same year, John Lewis also introduced H.R.3328 and H.Res.948. The first resolution called on the Secretary of State to collaborate with India in funding the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative, an educational and professional exchange program. While that bill did not pass, the other resolution officially endorsed the organizers and participants of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence.

After the U.N. General Assembly declared July 18 International Nelson Mandela Day, Lewis also introduced H.Res.1518. This resolution expressed the U.S.’s support for the U.N.’s action, which recognized Mandela’s progression of the nonviolent fight for equality under the law. This legislation also called on U.S. citizens to appreciate democracy, discourse and peace domestically.

2011-2016

Throughout the 112th, 113th and into the 114th congressional sessions, Lewis continued to introduce versions of his previous legislation. Lewis reintroduced H.Res.1518, regarding International Nelson Mandela Day, in 2011, 2013 and 2015. In those same years, John Lewis also restructured and then reintroduced what was originally H.RES.1169, regarding the U.S.’s commitment to protecting human rights globally. The new versions of the resolution maintained all components but did not specify to which conventions the U.S. must recommit, leaving room for expansion.

In 2011, 2013 and 2016, Lewis also reintroduced revised conditions for the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative bill. In 2016, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.Con.Res.158, which focuses on the importance of U.S. citizens and government recognizing the 35th annual International Day of Peace.

2017-2018

This time, under the Trump Administration, John Lewis persisted through the 115th congressional session. Despite blockage from other congressional leaders on several bills, he reintroduced legislation centered on humanitarianism. In 2017, Lewis first reinstated recognition of International Nelson Mandela Day, then of the International Day of Peace. He lastly revised the bill intended to strengthen the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative.

2019-2020

In his last year serving, at the age of nearly 80, John Lewis continued to advocate and reintroduce globally-conscious legislation. Lewis again dedicated floor time to the Nelson Mandela International Day resolution, and then again to the International Day of Peace resolution. At the end of 2019, Lewis introduced a new resolution, H.R.5517. This bill had the same goals as the previous Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative legislation Lewis introduced. However, Lewis amended the bill to include rhetoric affirming the altruistic intentions of the U.S. in collaboration with India. The 116th congressional session is still unfolding. This is an opportunity for other congressional leaders to pass the initiative Lewis pushed for over a decade.

Aside from his decades of success in public service and activism, John Lewis’s persistence in the congressional fight for global equity has paved the way for future lawmakers. John Lewis thought and acted as a global citizen. Despite setbacks and congressional stalemate, Lewis consistently and creatively committed the U.S. to the advancement of conditions for the world’s poor. Lewis leaves behind a legacy of care and compassion, ready for the next generation of American citizens and politicians to adopt.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Flickr