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Reach Every Mother and Child Act
The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 would work to end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and young children in developing countries.

U.S. Senators Chris Coons, D-Del., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced the Reach Act this summer as a solution for deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth.

“Over the past several years, we have made great strides in saving moms, babies, and kids in some of the poorest parts of the world, but it’s clear that more help – and more resources – are needed,” Sen. Coons said in a press release.

The Reach Act seeks to build on the progress made over the past few years in maternal-child health. According to Countdown to 2015’s report for this year, the global maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 45 percent over the past two decades, and the number of maternal deaths has dropped from about 523,000 a year to 289,000.

Maternal education and income growth have had a significant impact on the improvement of conditions for mothers and children in developing countries, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said, as well as technological innovations in medicine and other areas.

However, problems such as HIV, poor hospital conditions, and malnutrition still plague mothers and children in those countries. The Reach Act would help provide the means to solve these problems.

If enacted, the Act would:

  • Require a ten-year strategy to achieve the goal of ending preventable maternal, newborn, and child deaths by 2035;
  • Establish a permanent Maternal and Child Survival Coordinator at USAID who would be focused on implementing the ten-year strategy and verifying that the most effective interventions are scaled up in target countries.s
  • Require the Administration to develop a financing framework that would allow the use of U.S. government dollars to leverage additional commitments from the private sector, nonprofit organizations, partner countries, and multinational organizations.

The Reach Every Mother and Child Act of 2015 is currently being referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Email your congressional leaders in support of the Reach Every Mother and Child Act and help save the lives of 600,000 women and 15 million children by 2020.

Ashley Tressel

Sources: Senate, Health Data, Countdown to 2015: Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Data
Photo: Flickr

history of usaid
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was created in 1961 through the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Until the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act, USAID had existed as several different organizations; the act combined the organizations into one.

President John F. Kennedy was at the forefront of the transformation of US foreign assistance. He understood that there was a need for development to be combined into a single organization to promote social and economic development abroad. The values that guide USAID are rooted in our nation’s commitment to doing the right thing.

The agency’s model is also based off of the success of the Marshall Plan following World War II. The Marshall Plan allowed countries to rebuild their infrastructure, strengthen their economies and stabilize. This plan led the United States’ recognition that International Aid needed to become a part of our foreign policy strategy. We realized that investing abroad would reduce poverty, and create new markets for US products.

The precursors to USAID included a Mutual Security Agency, a Foreign Operations Administration, and an International Cooperation Administration. When USAID was signed into law in 1961, international development assistance opportunities grew tremendously, sparking what would become known as the “decade of development”.

In the 1970s, the agency shifted their focus to basic human needs. This approach focused on food and nutrition, population planning, health, education, and human resources development.

The 1980s saw yet another shift with foreign assistance aimed at stabilizing currencies and financial systems. USAID refocused on their commitment to broad-based economic growth, working to revitalize economic systems and promote employment and income opportunities.

In the 1990s, USAID focused on sustainability and democracy. They wanted to help countries improve their quality of life. This allowed the agency to provide developing countries with integrated assistance packages, transitional countries with help in times of crisis, and countries with limited the agency presence to receive NGO support.

The 2000s have focused on war and rebuilding. USAID has launched programs calling for reform. The agency has helped Afghanistan and Iraq rebuild their governments, infrastructure, civil society, and basic services including healthcare and education. USAID has begun reaching out to the private sector in order to help stretch its funding as much as possible.

USAID occupies more than 100 countries with the same overreaching goals set out by President John K. Kennedy in 1961. USAID aims to further America’s foreign policy interests in expanding democracy and free markets while also extending a helping hand to people struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster, or striving to live in a free democratic society.

– Caitlin Zusy 

Source: USAID

Federal Poverty Level
The federal poverty level is a measure that is often cited yet seldom is it fully understood.  Currently, the federal poverty level is considered to be at about a $15,000 yearly income per two-person families and, of which, the extreme poverty threshold  is set to households that are living on less than $2 per day.  This definition is fairly controversial, and has been subject to change over the years based on a number of factors.  However, it is a key concept to understand, and not just for domestic policy but foreign affairs as well.

The federal poverty level, or threshold, has been in effect in its current state since the Kennedy Administration.  According to a paper by economist, Gordon M. Fisher, the level was initiated in order to understand the risks of living in poverty  and the affects of poverty on different groups of people.  During the Johnson Administration, the level was used as a target; particularly, during the administration’s War on Poverty.

The level was developed based on the cost of food for families at the time and what kind of nutritional diet a family would be able to have at different levels.  Under the first calculation of this threshold, done by an economist working for the Social Security Administration, the threshold was determined at $1,988 yearly income per two-person households.

Since its creation, while a number of revisions have occurred since the first set of calculations, the formula to determine the level has been an important factor in U.S. policy decisions.  When looking at global poverty, the extreme poverty measure is particularly important for the threshold has been used to set goals for anti-poverty measures.

The Millennium Project is one such measure that uses the federal poverty level calculations to influence foreign policy.  The project has a number of goals to keep the global economy move forward, but listed first on these goals is the effort to “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty.”  These goals were set in 1990 with initial targets set to hit these goals.

The initial target for the extreme poverty goal was to halve extreme poverty by 2015.  Reminiscent of Johnson’s War on Poverty, this goal looked to drive the force for a greater world society.  The goal actually was estimated to have been reached by 2008, an achievement that was praised as a major success for the Millennium Project.

Despite the fact that poverty levels are used by programs like the War on Poverty and the Millennium Project, the poverty threshold has a number of critics.  Popular criticisms are that the threshold is too low, as it still uses calculations from the 1960s, and are applied indiscriminately to very different regions.  Alternative poverty measures have been proposed by state governments and by groups such as the National Academy of Sciences.  Unfortunately, none have yet been adopted.

Federal poverty levels are important to understand considering they are most often used in discussions surrounding poverty.  The measures influence policy decisions and are used to track the path of the U.S. economy.  The indications are that extreme poverty is going down across the world, but what this says about actual poverty and what it says about the way it is measured could be debated in some corners.

Eric Gustafsson

Sources: The New Yorker, Huffington Post, UN Millennium Project, Social Security Administration, Center for American Progress

10 Ways To Be Involved in Foreign Affairs
Directly from the Department of State Official Blog (yes, they have a blog), here are 10 ways to be involved in foreign affairs – how the average U.S. citizen can engage in international issues:

1. Travel. Nothing is better for understanding the world than travelling in it. Apply for a passport and download the free “Smart Traveler” App.

2. Study abroad. The U.S. Department of State offers programs for U.S. citizens to go abroad for cultural, educational and professional exchanges.  Get truly immersed in another culture – go to exchanges.state.gov to find a program that’s right for you.

3. Host an international student, scholar, or professional. There are a variety of hosting opportunities where you can invite an international visitor to your home for a meal, a place to stay during a week-long training program, or a semester of academic study.

4.  Export. The Dept. of State encourages and supports any business looking to begin or expand their exporting. Find information online to assist and participate in the State Department’s Direct Line Program — a unique opportunity for American businesses to speak directly with U.S. Ambassadors overseas.

5. End hunger. Almost one billion people suffer from chronic hunger, and, astonishingly, more than 3.5 million children die each year from under nutrition. Visit feedthefuture.gov to find out how you can partner with the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative by donating products, services, or resources.

6. Stop wildlife crime. Take the online pledge to learn more about wildlife trafficking, inform others and commit to become a more responsible consumer in order to help save the planet’s wildlife.

7. Fight modern slavery. Twenty-seven million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking, or modern slavery. There are many ways you can help stop it; read the full list. 

8. Partner with the Dept. of State. The U.S. Department of State has entered a new era of collaboration and partnership with non-governmental groups. Find out how your organization can promote economic growth and opportunity by investing in the welfare of people around the world.

9. Invest in women and girls worldwide. The Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls helps combat violence, improve education and health, and creates economic and political opportunities for women worldwide. Or be a mentor with TechWomen, matching mentors with emerging female technologies in the Middle East and North Africa.

10.  Follow the Dept. of State on social media – and engage. More than 25 million people around the world follow the U.S. Department of State and U.S. diplomatic missions on social media. People are contributing their ideas to a global online conversation; join in!

 – Mary Purcell

Source: Department of State Blog