Most of the coverage of President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has focused on budget cuts to foreign aid and drastic changes to USAID. Often overlooked among the alarming changes proposed by the president are the potential cuts to national service programs such as the Peace Corps. Since the 1960s, the Peace Corps has served as an important service that the United States offers to developing nations. The proposed 2018 federal budget threatens the Peace Corps with a 15 percent funding cut.
President John F. Kennedy founded the Peace Corps in 1961. The Peace Corps Mission has three goals: to help people in other countries; to encourage better understanding of Americans; and for Americans to better understand other. The programs consist of three months of training and two years of service in an assigned country. Since its inception, almost 220,000 volunteers have served in 141 developing countries.
In the past half-century, the Peace Corps has run a variety of initiatives to meet the specific needs of developing countries. Peace Corps volunteers currently serve in over 60 countries, mostly in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
Ongoing initiatives include fighting HIV/AIDS; combatting hunger; protecting the environment and improving access to technology. One of the newest Peace Corps programs is Let Girls Learn. Led by former first lady Michelle Obama, this initiative aims to help girls around the world gain better access to education and prevent pregnancy at a young age.
The benefits of the Peace Corps go both ways. More than just providing foreign financial aid, the Peace Corps helps and instructs local populations to be healthier, more equitable and more sustainable. In turn, the volunteers that provide these services receive job and language skills in addition to an important cultural and learning experience.
President Trump cited balancing the national budget and emphasizing national security as reasons for the funding cuts. However, foreign aid funding currently takes up less than one percent of the national budget. This move is as unlikely to balance the budget as it is to strengthen national security. Goodwill missions like the Peace Corps improve U.S. relations with developing countries. And efforts that help stabilize these areas preempt extremism and other national security threats.
Assisting the Peace Corps is hardly most Americans’ top priority, but it is an effective government agency that benefits developing nations, young Americans and U.S. interests. Since the 2018 federal budget threatens the Peace Corps, U.S. citizens would do well to highlight the importance of the Peace Corps to their elected officials and urge them to secure Peace Corps funding in 2018.
– Bret Anne Serbin