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

AGOA and MCA
The House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Karen Bass (D-CA), joined forces to introduce legislation that will improve economic trade in Africa utilizing the Africa Growth and Opportunity and Millennium Challenge Acts.

The original African Growth and Opportunity Act (or AGOA) is a U.S. Trade Act enacted in May 2000. AGOA enhances access to the U.S. market for qualifying Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. In order to qualify for AGOA, countries have to be working to improve their rule of law, human rights and respect for labor standards. Although the act originally covered an eight-year time period until 2008, due to various amendments signed by both former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, AGOA has been extended to 2025. The new amendments will update and strengthen the original act.

The amendments to AGOA will make information more readily available over the Internet to users in both Africa and the U.S. while encouraging policies that promote economic trade with Africa. They also provide technical assistance that allows participating countries of AGOA to utilize it to its full capacity.

The second part of this legislation will improve economic trade in Africa through updating the Millennium Challenge Act (or MCA). The MCA was passed in 2003 with the main purpose of providing global economic development through assisting in programs that will eliminate poverty while supporting good governance and economic freedom. These programs are run through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which partners with countries directly in programs that encourage economic growth.

The new amendments to the legislation will allow the MCC to work with more flexibility in their mission to increase regional trade, collaboration, and economic integrity. To accomplish this, the amendments to MCA will allow two projects, or “compacts,” per country simultaneously. In the previous legislation, there was only one allowed—making it particularly competitive. Additionally, MCC’s private-sector board members can extend their term for two years, providing stability. Lastly, the reporting requirements of MCC will be strengthened in order to ensure greater transparency.

Upon the introduction of these amendments to both AGOA and MCA, Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, Rep. Smith and Rep. Bass said in the press release by the Foreign Affairs Committee: “Moving developing countries away from aid and toward trade helps African companies, especially women. But it also benefits U.S. farmers, manufacturers and small businesses by providing new markets for their goods. So today we are introducing a bill to modernize AGOA and MCA—key laws in the effort to encourage African economic independence and promote U.S.-Africa trade. With Africa’s consumer spending expected to reach one trillion dollars, now is the time to accelerate this important trade relationship.”

The introduction of these amendments is a step in the right direction for economic trade in Africa. As so many other countries have invested in the economic growth of Sub-Saharan Africa, the US appears to be moving in that direction as well with the updates of AGOA and MCA.

Sydney Roeder

Photo: Flickr