Debunking Misconceptions about Foreign Aid

As an advocacy group, The Borgen Project works to raise awareness about the importance of foreign assistance. Foreign aid not only improves the quality of life for millions of people, but it also brings jobs to the United States and strengthens national security. Yet, in spite of the benefits that foreign aid provides, many U.S. citizens are not in favor of it.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in 2013 reported that nearly half of the U.S. general public was in favor of major cuts to the foreign aid budget to help reduce deficits, and 65 percent believed that economic problems at home make such spending too costly. Cutting foreign assistance will not have a large impact on U.S. debt, as it consistently makes up 1 percent of the federal budget or less.

Why are so many people in favor of reducing foreign aid when doing so will not reduce deficits? One problem may be that they do not know the actual amount being spent on foreign aid. The Kaiser family poll found that U.S. citizens on average believe that 28 percent of the budget goes to international development, with 12 percent of respondents stating that half of U.S. spending is foreign aid. Similarly, 61 percent of those asked believed the current amount spent on foreign aid should be lower.

However, the public does not seem to support more foreign assistance spending even with accurate information. When the Kaiser Family poll informed respondents that about 1 percent of the budget went to fighting poverty abroad, only 28 percent believed this was too little, while 30 percent still believed this was too much and 31 percent said that the current budget was the right size.

A much larger problem may be that most U.S. citizens do not think that international development programs have strong impact. According to the Kaiser Family poll, only one quarter of respondents thought that U.S. programs to improve global health had a strong effect, while two-thirds believed the effect was “only fair” or “poor.”

Again, the idea that foreign aid has no effect is simply not true. In the 2014 Annual Letter, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation explain how much international development programs help the poor. Since 1960, over 1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Global health programs have done incredible work to stop disease; over 2.5 billion children have been immunized against polio since 1988, and in 2013 fewer than 400 cases were reported worldwide. Given current trends, extreme poverty (living on $1 per day) will end by 2035, and child mortality will drop to U.S. levels by that time as well.

Not only do people not know how much is spent on foreign aid, but they also do not know how great its benefits are. To gain support for a stronger international development budget, advocates must work to debunk both myths and educate others about the worthiness of foreign assistance.

– Ted Rappleye

Sources: kff.org, annualletter.gatesfoundation.org www-tc.pbs.org