From the Executive Director's Desk...
The tree of life
Rev. John L. McCullough
By Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
In last month's article, I spoke about a vision of true security that is rooted in human needs and rights. We looked at some specific peace-making policy requests emerging from Ecumenical Advocacy Days. I'd like to continue in that vein by exploring other vital initiatives up for debate in U.S. foreign aid spending.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and your will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
We can see signs of the times all around us: massive numbers of home foreclosures; people laid off their jobs; food and energy prices soaring, making it difficult to manage family budgets; the Federal Reserve taking unprecedented steps to shore up what appears to be a shaky financial system. Clearly, we are in difficult economic waters here in the U.S.
Yet, as Jesus reminds us in this passage and in the story of the Good Samaritan which follows, there are no boundaries to God's love. Even in the midst of our own struggles, we have the opportunity to express compassion to all God's children and to address injustice and basic human needs everywhere.
Foreign aid rightly applied
This year the President has requested $39.5 billion for International Affairs, which includes funding for the U.S. diplomatic corps as well as global health care, development assistance, and humanitarian aid. Congress, at a minimum, must meet the President's overall target for international affairs. To put these amounts in perspective, the entire international affairs budget is a mere 1.3 percent of the total U.S. budget. The portion that goes to alleviating poverty around the world is even smaller only about $14 billion.
I think of the great Georgia Sea Island spiritual, “Ain't We All Got a Right to the Tree of Life.” Everyone deserves to live a dignified life with the basics of shelter, water, education and a means of earning a living. Providing assistance helps us as a nation fulfill our commitments to preserving and protecting the human rights and dignity of all.
Foreign aid is also a wise investment. Intelligently applied foreign assistance can help lift people up and out of poverty over the long term by establishing an economic foundation for growth and development from the individual household to community and national levels. There is ample evidence to show how a dollar to help fund childhood immunization now or basic education rebounds in terms of diminished medical costs later, greater worker productivity, and stronger economies.
The Global Poverty Act
One way to strengthen the U.S. commitment to eradicating extreme poverty is to call for Congressional support of the Global Poverty Act (S. 2433). If passed, this legislation would make the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) -- to cut in half the number of people who are hungry and the number of people living on less then $1 a day -- an official part of U.S. policy. It would require the President to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal.
More concretely, Congress should increase funding for poverty-focused development aid by at least $5 billion a year, starting this year. Only by doing this will the U.S. commit its fair share of resources to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
You may be aware that calling on Congress to support more and better poverty-focused development assistance -- including the Global Poverty Act and a $5 billion increase in foreign aid directed toward poverty alleviation -- is the subject of CWS colleague organization Bread for the World's 2008 Offering of Letters.
Two specific concerns
As part of the MDG process, the U.S. pledged to help reduce by half the proportion of people living without access to clean water and sanitation by 2015. This translates into ensuring 100 million new people each year obtain access. To this end, CWS supported the adoption of the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act enacted by Congress in 2005. However, we are still struggling to get sufficient funding to make “water for all” a reality. This year CWS is advocating that Congress appropriate $500 million to help provide safe, affordable drinking water and adequate sanitation to impoverished communities around the world.
The U.S. House of Representatives and key Senate committees have signed off on legislation authorizing $50 billion over five years to fund programs to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in developing countries. Congress should approve funding at this level. Money should be included to train, retain, and better manage health care workers -- $650 million this year, scaling up to $2.6 billion over five years. Developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, are facing a dire shortage of trained health care providers. Unless this situation is addressed, we will not see significant long-term improvement in the health of our brothers and sisters, and most notably, reverse escalating mortality rates and downward trends in life expectancy averages in some countries.
Taxation and representation
April is tax month, and it is a good time to let Congress know how we'd like our taxes to be spent. Please join CWS in calling for a more generous poverty-focused foreign aid commitment, one which is more effectively focused on meeting the most basic of needs of our neighbors around the world.
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