Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Investing in Foreign Aid Puts Food on U.S. Tables

Delta Farmer
Produce from 1 in 3 acres on American farms is exported to foreign consumers. Of the top 50 consumer nations of U.S. agricultural products, 43 of those countries have been recipients of foreign assistance (Photo of a farmer in the Mississippi Delta by Todd Post).

By Robin Stephenson

As an anti-hunger advocate, I often hear this sentiment: "We should not be sending all our money overseas when people are hungry here." This statement sets up a false one-or-the-other scenario: the fact is, in proportion to our overall budget, we send very little money overseas to help hungry people. That little bit does a tremendous amount of good— it invests in peace and goodwill, promotes trade and job creation at home and abroad, and saves lives. What that investment doesn’t do is take food off of American tables.

I wasn’t surprised to read about a new Kaiser Poll, mentioned on the WonkBlog last month, reporting that Americans believe that about 28 percent of our budget is spent on foreign aid. I often conduct a similar poll when I speak in churches. The responses I get usually range from 15–50 percent.  Jaws drop in shock when I tell audiences that the international affairs budget comprises about 1 percent of our federal budget, and aid for poverty-focused development assistance (PFDA) is half of that.

I asked Bread's international policy analyst, Beth Ann Saracco, how she responds when presented with the "either-or" scenario. “When the argument is made that we must choose between feeding our fellow Americans and our brothers and sisters abroad, clearly we fail as a people morally," she said. "But equally as important, we are choosing short-sighted public policy, as well, which gravely threatens America’s economic and national security interests, both in the short and long term.”

PFDA has helped cut extreme poverty in half over the past decade. But knowing what foreign aid does isn't always enough to deter its detractors from pitting international against domestic investments — a false choice that shows a lack of understanding about the root causes of poverty and hunger. PFDA is an investment that helps the U.S. economy. The best defense against hunger is a good job, and jobs that help put food on American tables are often directly, or indirectly, tied to the global economy.  

Businesses rely on consumers to buy their products, and owners add to their workforce as demand increases. Ninety percent of consumers live outside of the United States, and one in three manufacturing jobs depends on exports. Farmers need foreign consumers—one in three acres of their produce is exported. Of the top 50 consumer nations of American agricultural products, 43 of those countries have been recipients of foreign assistance. Statistics show fifty percent of our domestic exports currently go to developing nations. These numbers show that the vitality of the U.S. job market requires foreign consumers, and foreign assistance helps build a foundation for the development of future trade partners.

Since 2010, foreign aid has been reduced by 19 percent. These cuts to PFDA jeopardize the lives of our brothers and sisters abroad and our economic stability at home. As Congress continues to work on a 2014 budget deal, we must tell our representatives and senators to protect poverty focused foreign assistance for the good of all.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.


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