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Opinion

Surprise! Americans want to 'slash' foreign aid – to 10 times its current size

Americans think foreign aid is 25 percent of the budget and want it to be 10. It's actually 1 percent. This is just one of many misconceptions about foreign aid – seen as an expensive handout that doesn't work. But foreign aid does work. And it works as a safeguard investment for America, too.

By Ken Hackett / March 7, 2011



Baltimore

If a poll shows support for a position that politicians espouse, they will point to this finding as proof that they are doing the will of the people. If a poll shows the opposite, they are likely to dismiss it, saying pollsters shouldn’t be running the government.

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So what are our politicians to do with this? Polls show that in this big-deficit, belt-tightening time, Americans think that foreign aid should be cut. But they also think that it should be ten times the amount it is now.

Say what?

That’s right. According to pollsters, the vast majority of Americans polled say the US should put foreign aid first in line for the chopping block. When you ask them how much of the federal budget is now spent on such aid, they say 25 percent. And how much should it be? They say about 10 percent.

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But the fact is that foreign aid is only about 1 percent of the budget. Not 25 percent, as most Americans polled think. So slashing it to 10 percent – the level they think it should be at – would actually be a huge increase. This is just one of the misconceptions about foreign aid that exist in America. And it’s these misconceptions that need to be cleared up as we enter this budget season, or millions around the world are going to suffer. Ultimately, foreign aid isn’t just good for those we help; it’s good for America.

Foreign aid isn't just handouts

For one thing, many think foreign aid is simply a matter of handouts, giving people food and clothing and such. Actually, all sorts of things come under foreign aid. Some of US foreign aid funding goes to Israel and Egypt, as part of the Camp David accords. Some supports the needs of other governments. And a portion is aimed at helping the poor in the developing world. Certainly there are food assistance programs to help the hungry and vulnerable – often children – but there is still so much more to foreign aid. For example, foreign assistance develops agriculture so that self-reliance can grow in areas where, now, one bad harvest or one dry rainy season can create a need for emergency aid.

Other programs bring water, sanitation, and health services – really the essentials of life – to the poorest of the poor. Still others build up civic structures so that people can begin to have a stronger voice in shaping their own fate. Self-reliance is the focus and goal of such foreign aid today.

As members of a faith-based organization, we at Catholic Relief Services do not hesitate to make the moral argument for such spending. While we understand that all must sacrifice in this time of financial austerity, we do not think it is right to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. We are confident that the majority of Americans, of all faiths and beliefs, share that moral understanding.

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