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cuts to USAIDRecently, the Trump administration, in collaboration with congressional leadership on Capitol Hill, has hammered out a deal to prevent a government shutdown while effectively gutting the State Department and agencies like USAID of their funding. This move not only signals a sidelining of diplomacy but marks one of the biggest budget cuts to USAID and the State Department since the early 1990s.

The effects of the budget cuts to USAID are undoubtedly going to hinder diplomatic agencies in eliminating poverty around the globe and increasing diplomatic relations with the countries that depend on us the most. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the State Department’s main tool for dispensing aid to foreign countries and strengthening diplomatic relations.

USAID currently operates in roughly 100 countries, fighting the spread of poverty and disease while working to improve economic conditions worldwide. The proposed budget cuts to USAID weigh in at approximately $9 billion, a staggering defeat to those working toward the end of poverty worldwide.

The President’s proposed budget cuts to USAID amount to nearly one-third of its total budget, in what seems to be a strategic move away from diplomacy and toward military strengthening. Regardless of the President’s agenda, this move away from soft power and diplomacy has been condemned by many members of the military.

A total of 151 retired senior military commanders, including former chiefs of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command, have warned that a reduction of this magnitude could have detrimental effects around the globe. As threats to the United States’ national security continue to grow, it is a risk to decrease diplomatic ties at such a pivotal moment.

Many civilians and government employees agree with the opinions of their military leaders. Former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios said, when facing the 1999 budget cuts to foreign aid, that it is likely budget cuts could have detrimental effects toward the technical expertise of USAID and could mark the beginning of a disaster in the long-term.

As well as the statement above, Natsios describes budget cuts toward foreign aid and agencies such as USAID as an “evisceration of the most important tool of American influence in the developing world.” Other staffers from USAID warn of the spread of disease in the United States rising as foreign aid spending is cut. Outbreaks such as the Ebola outbreak may become much larger and harder to contain with a lack of funding to agencies such as USAID. These concerns are still relevant and even more serious today.

Agencies such as USAID are pivotal in diplomatic relations and national security. By providing funds, resources, goods and trade to other countries, the U.S. invests in itself as well as others. By providing healthcare to those in need, USAID prevents the spread of communicable diseases, prevents premature death and builds a market for low-cost medical technologies.

By providing food and farming technologies, the U.S. prevents world hunger and promotes market trading of produce and other consumable goods. By providing foreign aid, the country also helps form more efficiently-run governments and promotes democracy wherever possible. All of these efforts also prevent bigger catastrophes around the globe, such as mass migrations, food shortages and natural disasters.

At the end of March, Congress approved an omnibus appropriations bill for FY18 that will keep the government open through September 30, 2018. When it comes to funding for development and diplomacy, the omnibus overwhelmingly rejects the deep and disproportionate cuts proposed by the Administration in FY18 – highlighting the strong bipartisan support in Congress for these critical programs. Still, there is more work to be done to protect funding for the foreign aid budget in FY19 and beyond. 

 

Email Congress in Support of the International Affairs Budget

– Dalton Westfall

Photo: Flickr

Protecting Girls' Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings ActThe Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Oct. 3 and goes to the Senate next for consideration.

In May 2017, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) reintroduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Prior to its passing in the House, the legislation gained 50 cosponsors — 37 Democrats and 13 Republicans.

The bill was assigned to the House of Foreign Affairs Committee and is meant “to enhance the transparency, improve the coordination and intensify the impact of assistance to support access to primary and secondary education for displaced children and persons, including women and girls.”

This means that if the bill passes Congress, USAID would be able to further improve existing education programs for displaced children, with an emphasis on girls. USAID would collaborate with the private sector and civil society groups to make these improvements possible. The bill would also require the State Department and USAID to include education data in any report to Congress that covers disaster relief efforts.

The bill would specifically allow the State Department and USAID to bolster programs that provide safe primary and secondary education for displaced children, increase school capacity in countries hosting displaced children and help give displaced children, especially girls, opportunities in educational, economic and entrepreneurial realms. It would allow the State Department and USAID to coordinate with multilateral organizations to collect data.

Educating girls is a key step to ending poverty. Girls who attend school are less likely to get married young, and if every girl received an education, adolescent marriage could decrease by 64 percent worldwide. Women are less likely to contract HIV/AIDS if they have adequate education. In addition, an extra year of secondary school increases a woman’s future earnings by anywhere from 15 to 25 percent. Lastly, educated women are more likely to become entrepreneurs and invest in their communities, breaking the cycle of poverty.

Despite these facts, girls everywhere, especially displaced girls, lack access to proper education. Girls in conflict-affected countries are nearly two and a half times more likely to be out of school, and young women affected by conflict are nearly 90 percent more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in stable countries. There are 98 million girls worldwide who do not attend school.

The vote to pass the bill in the House was done by voice, so there is no written record of which representatives voted yes and which voted no. The Senate must approve the bill in its original form in order for it to be passed on to the next step. If the Senate amends the bill in any way, it must be sent back to the House of Representatives to be accepted or rejected.

If the Senate passes the bill, it will go to the President’s desk next. He will then either sign it into law, veto it and send it back to Congress (which can overrule the veto with a two-thirds vote), or pocket veto it — which means that he would wait too long for it to be signed during the current legislative session.

According to Skopos Labs, there is a 38 percent chance of the bill being enacted. You can learn more about the Protecting Girls’ Access to Education in Vulnerable Settings Act here, and find out how to contact your senators about the bill here.

-Téa Franco

Photo: Flickr

Fighting Poverty AbroadThe vast apparatus of the U.S. State Department can make it an overwhelming organization to understand. However, by assessing its individual offices, it becomes clear how vital these agencies are to the State Department fighting poverty abroad. These are some of the most prominent branches of the State Department and what they do to alleviate global poverty.

The Bureau of African Affairs (BAA) has operated for decades, promoting democracy, human rights and economic ties beneficial to both the U.S. and its African partners. Democratic transitions in unstable nations have been assisted and coordinated in conjunction with the BAA. The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, coordinated by the agency, contributes to the economic development that has seen millions lifted out of poverty in Africa.

The diplomacy conducted through the BAA highlights the importance of strong relations in allowing poverty alleviation programs to be deployed. By ensuring the cooperation of host nations, the State Department has been able to implement the Power Africa and Feed the Future programs. This is supported by the Global Health Initiative, aimed at eradicating debilitating diseases on the continent, with around 63 billion now invested in the project.

The Office of Global Food Security is another branch of the State Department that contributes to poverty alleviation. As with the BAA, it utilizes its diplomatic toolbox to put in place development programs aimed at eradicating poverty.

The office is particularly focused on agricultural development and promotes employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agricultural sectors to end famines and establish more secure rural economies.

Aside from boots-on-the-ground agencies, the Bureau of International Organization Affairs is vital for developing and sustaining relationships with important organizations in the fight against global poverty. This office uses diplomacy to strengthen ties with the U.N. and its auxiliaries (such as UNICEF) in concert with promoting U.S. leadership in democracy promotion and poverty reduction. Despite receiving scant media attention, U.S. cooperation with Amnesty International and the Red Cross depends on the IO Bureau.

These agencies of the State Department fighting poverty abroad emphasize how important diplomatic skills are for furthering poverty alleviation efforts. In order for the State Department to continue to promote American leadership in this area, its budget must be preserved.

Jonathan Riddick

Photo: Flickr

End Modern SlaverySlavery is never an easy problem to confront. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant to think about, a complex jumble of economics, politics, culture, and dozens of other areas. It is also very uncomfortable to address the possibility that many western clothes and electronics are made by slaves. However, poverty cannot end completely without ending slavery, and slavery will not end without an end to poverty. They feed off one another, so in order to end poverty, people must end modern slavery as well.

Society tends to imagine slavery as an issue of the past, a horrible chapter of human history that closed with the ban on the slave trade in Europe and the emancipation proclamation in America. But slavery has continued, and today, there are more people in slavery than at any other time in human history. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved today, 79 percent of whom are women and children. Almost every country in the world is somehow involved in human trafficking and slavery, either as a country of origin, transit or destination.

Many people who become trapped in slavery are the people who are already trapped in poverty. People in extreme poverty often try to find ways out of their desperate situation, and many are lured into the slave trade with promises of education, steady work and a better life. Instead, they are sold into slavery, often for as little as $90 a person, and imprisoned with literal chains or psychological pressure. They can then be forced into different types of slavery, including sexual exploitation and prostitution, forced labor, being compelled to act as beggars, benefit fraud and organ removal.

There are laws and international protocols against the slave trade, but they are poorly enforced and often ineffective. Victims fear coming forward to the authorities because of stigmas and the risk of imprisonment or deportation, even when they are the victims, not the criminals. The victims are often the ones to carry the social shame and punishments while the conviction rate for the slave traders remains low.

Ending modern day slavery feels like a difficult task. There is no open slave trade to end as there was in the 1700s and 1800s. The U.N. is one of the many organizations working to free people and give them a new life. Since the early ’90s, it has freed more than 90,000 people by working to prevent trafficking and protect victims. However, there are still millions more to free and prevent from becoming victims in the first place. The State Department has devised a strategy of prosecution, protection and prevention, the “3 P’s” that are aimed to end modern slavery.

One of the most important ways to end modern slavery is by preventing it. Both slavery and poverty are about “excluding people from economic and social justice,” so addressing economic and social issues deals with slavery and poverty together. By preventing individuals from falling into the desperate situations of poverty, they are less vulnerable to slave traffickers. Preventing social exclusion and discrimination is also an important step to stop slavery. Slowing the supply of victims by addressing these social and economic causes is a crucial step to ending modern slavery. Since many of these problems are also related to global poverty, this is a win-win situation.

Protection is another key way to end slavery. The movements of refugees and migrants have made many people more vulnerable, so safe migration and trade unions can help keep workers from becoming susceptible to the slave trade. Those already trapped in the slave trade should receive the proper treatment and legal action. This leads to the final P, which is prosecution of those running the slave trade. The low prosecution rates provide little deterrence for those involved with the slave trade, so cracking down on prosecution can act as a form of further deterrence.

Compared to the number of people in poverty, about 10 percent of the world’s population, the number of people in slavery is small. However, these 27 million people deserve far better treatment. Addressing the issues of poverty that cause the desperation can help end modern slavery, and ending modern slavery helps end poverty.

Rachael Lind

How "Extreme" is the U.S. Refugee Screening Process?
As global concern about terrorism has grown in the past several years, so has demand for strict security measures regarding the resettlement of refugees. The U.S. refugee screening process was a common theme in the 2016 presidential debates. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton spoke on the issue, and some constituents called for “extreme vetting” of refugees coming into the U.S. What many people don’t know is how extensive the existing process is.

The resettlement process begins with applicants identifying themselves to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. Applicants present the UNHCR with all identifying documents and, after an interview, the organization determines whether or not they qualify as refugees. Only applicants who are strong candidates for refugee status move forward in the process. This number equates to less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide.

The average time an applicant spends waiting to be resettled after being approved as a refugee by the UNHCR is anywhere between 18 months and two years. During this time, the applicant’s case is carefully reviewed and screened by a number of different resources.

After receiving official refugee status from the UNHCR, the applicant is referred for resettlement to the U.S. by the U.N., a national embassy or an NGO. The applicant goes through a series of security checks run by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. In the U.S., these bodies include the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The screenings look for any indication that the applicant could pose a threat to domestic security, such as connections to known terrorists or past criminal history. The screening process is repeated if new information comes to light during any point of the resettlement process.

Next, the applicant goes through an in-person interview with a U.S. Homeland Security officer who has been specially trained to interview refugees. Fingerprints are taken at the time of the interview and scanned against the DHS biometric database, which contains watch-list information and details regarding any previous immigration accounts overseas. The applicant then goes through a medical screening and may be treated for communicable diseases if necessary.

Applicants also go through intensive cultural classes and are matched with U.S. partner agencies that will assist them when they arrive at their new homes. Prior to departure, applicants undergo one more security screening to check for any new information. Upon arrival in their new cities, months’ worth of cultural orientation helps them adjust properly to living in the U.S.

Overall, the existing U.S. refugee screening process is methodical and rigorous.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

human_traffic_gender

Since 2011, the U.S. Department of State has released an annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), detailing the U.S. government’s evaluation of the human trafficking situation around the world. The report is organized by ranking 188 governments in their effectiveness in preventing human trafficking and addressing the issues associated with modern day slavery. The stated purpose of publishing these reports is to hold traffickers accountable for their actions and to prevent more people from falling victim.

The TIP reports organize countries into three different tiers, determined by the country’s governmental cooperation in meeting the standards set by the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Tier One countries have the highest levels of progress in addressing and preventing human trafficking. On average, 30 countries fall in the Tier One range. Tier 2 maintains two different levels: Tier 2 and the Tier 2 Watch list, typically with approximately 130 countries in this category.

Finally, about 20 countries make up the Tier 3 level. A country is deemed Tier 3 for failed governmental attention to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and blatant trafficking. Countries on the Tier 3 list are susceptible to sanctions from the U.S. government.

Proponents of the TIP report praise the effectiveness of monitoring progress and the accountability systems. The TIP reports have strengthened through their systematic measurements of governmental actions.

Such believers in the TIP reports claim they prevent thousands of people from being recruited into the trafficking network and purport that countries around the world are spurred to action by these annual rankings. Supporters commend the State Department for taking action on this global cause and providing leadership in getting governments to examine the trafficking situations within their countries and spurring change across the world.

Furthermore, many nonprofit organizations and relief agencies cite the data in the TIP reports and use this information to develop their action plans.

While responses to the TIP reports have largely been positive, critics point out many perceived flaws in the system. Some believe the reports merely cause diplomatic problems and put tensions on relationships between various countries.

One problem critics have pointed out is how the rankings are determined: they are based not on the extent of trafficking in a country, but only on governmental action towards trafficking. Others simply disagree with the premise of the United States ranking other countries, since the U.S. has problems with trafficking as well.

The 2013 TIP Report, which was released in June, drew much attention to its downgrading of China and Russia, since these big trading countries are now liable to sanctions from the U.S. government.

– Allison Meade
Sources: Not For Sale Campaign, U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Person Report 2013
Photo: RealCourage.org

Belize_Poverty
Belize has experienced a peaceful transition to a democratic government since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. The country’s global comparative advantage is derived from its natural resources, which supports the tourism and agriculture sectors, as well as its close geographical proximity to major markets. Challenges like poverty in Belize are due to high vulnerability to external shocks, including natural hazards, impacts of climate change, and terms of trade. The government’s ability to face these challenges is limited due to high debt levels and limited fiscal space.

As a lower middle-income country, Belize experienced a slowdown in growth and an increase in poverty after the global economic crisis, which accompanied increases in the prices of food and fuel price in 2008.  The most recent Country Poverty Assessment indicates that between 2002 and 2009, the overall poverty rate increased from 34% to 41%, while extreme poverty increased from 11% to 16%. In 2010, the country resumed growth, with GDP growth reaching 2.9%. Although Belize’s economy has traditionally relied on agriculture, the services sector grew in importance during the 1990s. According to the World Bank, it is now the country’s largest contributor, accounting for 60% of GDP.

Data indicates that the overall economic growth experienced by the country might have failed to translate into an equal distribution of wealth and well-being. The Country Poverty Assessment states that, “inequality is therefore the manifestation of the central structural problem, which development policy in Belize must address”. The government of Belize continues to put the primary focus of its strategies on the fight against poverty.

Recently, the State Department through the U.S. Mission to Belize made plans to spend $500,000 to create jobs for youth and reduce poverty in Belize. The grant announcement said, “Marginalized youth are empowered when given a voice and opportunities. Equipping marginalized youth and their communities with economic opportunities and/or business training can help them reach their true potential as entrepreneurs and improve citizen security.”

The purpose of the grant proposal is to “confront the root causes of violence and crime in a creative and effective way and seek to create positive cultural and social conditions.” The U.S. Embassy may award up to 10 grants, which do not exceed a total of $500,000 USD. Eligible applicants are non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations (NPOs), International Government Organizations (IGOs), educational institutions, and individuals.

– Ali Warlich

Sources: World Bank, CNS News, Grants.gov
Photo: WordPress

foreignaid
President Obama revealed his proposed budget for 2014 and much to the surprise of many, there was a slight increase in foreign aid in the proposal. Requested funds for foreign aid equaled somewhere around $52 billion which is a slight bump over this year’s budget.  Increased funds for global health and development assistance were included as well as a decrease in military aid to foreign countries.  The proposed budget also called for a major overhaul of the US food-aid programme to save money and invest more wisely in food production and improvement rather than on shipping costs.

The International Affairs budget funds USAID and the State Department as well as the United States’ donations to the United Nations and other similar institutions.  It also provides funds for natural disaster emergencies and embassy support. The proposed budget will now be passed to the House and Senate where they will debate the proposed funds.  If an agreement cannot be reached again this year, major across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect again. One thing that did not change in the proposed budget was the proportion of the budget that goes towards foreign aid, which still amounts to only slightly more than 1% of overall spending. Compared to the defense budget, which is around $527 billion, there is still a large gap in appropriated government funds.

Advocates of foreign aid spending have long complained of the disconnect between aid and diplomacy, citing that without increased development, unstable countries will struggle to become stable. Leaders are working with Congress to call for the necessary funds to promote global development, innovation, and provide resources to those in poverty. The proposed budget caused non-profit and non-government leaders to breathe a slight sigh of relief as their funds were not initially proposed to be cut. While budget cuts must be made, foreign aid is an area where the funds are causing global change, reducing poverty, and increasing the safety of both US citizens and citizens of other countries.

The proposed budget is also the perfect time for advocacy.  As Senators and Representatives must make decisions about the final budget, calls advocating for foreign aid and funds focused towards reducing global poverty can make a real impact.

Find your senators and representative here and make a 30 second call to keep foreign aid fully funded.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: The International News Magazine
Photo: Council on Foreign Relations

Heartbeat_Israel_Palestine_opt
Heartbeat, a non-profit organization which unites Palestinian and Israeli youth musicians, will visit the State Department this week for a musical performance and discussion. Aaron Shneyer leads the group and is a former Fulbright-mtvU Scholar, and has continued to lead Heartbeat since his grant ended in 2008.

The group, based in Jerusalem, is meant to “build trust among Israeli and Palestinian youth through the power of music in what they call a sustained music-based dialogue.” The group practices and plays songs in French, Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The group has an EP available for download, and they blend both modern and classic instruments in their music which features jazz, hip hop, folk, and rock.

The Fulbright-mtvU program provides U.S. scholars with a year grant to spend going abroad and working with music as a way of encouraging a global understanding and respect. Although the partnership between the Fulbright program and mtvU is a public-private one, these collaborations provide U.S. students with unique opportunities around the world.

Since its inception, the Fulbright Program has provided funding for over 318,000 scholars to “study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: U.S. State Department
Photo: Art Fuse

State_Department_Southeast_Asia_Tech_Science
Over the last few years, the U.S. Department of State has worked to encourage young girls throughout Southeast Asia to utilize their skills for careers in math, science, technology, and engineering.

The program, called Tech Age Girls (TAG), is “leveraging communications technology to connect young women in Philippines and Vietnam with learning resources and mentors,” according to the State Department.

In January, the State Department held the first TAG conference in Hanoi, hosting 30 talented young girls out of a pool of 376 applicants, from Vietnam and the Philippines to participate in improving their digital communications and leadership skills. The girls also participated in mini-internships, and could consult with female mentors throughout the conference.

At the second conference, held in the Philippines, an additional 28 girls improved their knowledge of communications relating to increasing globalization, and also received information on career opportunities and community service projects.

The State Department hopes that by providing the girls with positive mentors and the tools to pursue careers in fields where females are underrepresented through the TAG program, they will be able to positively impact their own communities throughout Southeast Asia.

Christina Kindlon

Source: US State Department