Letter to President Trump on FY2018 Budget

May 22, 2017

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

On behalf of Refugees International, we write respectfully to request that you delay your planned Fiscal Year 2018 budget presentation, or at least the elements related to U.S. humanitarian assistance, in view of reports of massive cuts in programs that serve critical humanitarian needs around the world and are crucial to the promotion of U.S. interests and U.S. values. We ask that you use such a delay to reconsider and reverse such cuts in your budget for 2018.

In your remarks this past weekend in Saudi Arabia, you applauded “Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees,” and you repeatedly spoke of the importance of the United States partnering with governments in the region.  Prior to her departure for the region, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley emphasized U.S. humanitarian aid, writing that “no country has invested more in protecting, housing, feeding and caring for Syrian refugees than the U.S.”  And in connection with the nomination of Mark Green as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Secretary Rex Tillerson said that USAID has a “vital role in protecting U.S. national security by fostering stability, resolving conflict, responding to humanitarian crises, and ending infectious diseases.” 

The draconian humanitarian funding cuts being reported for 2018 would dramatically compromise the capacity of the United States to support friends and allies addressing humanitarian challenges and would send a signal in the starkest contrast to the message that you, Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Haley are seeking to convey. Moreover, these cuts would not only impact U.S. friends in the Middle East, but in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.

In short, if the reports we have received are accurate, many around the world will die as a result of the diminished resources and support that would result from these cuts. 

Reports suggest that your budget proposal would cut about one-third of U.S. humanitarian aid, and more than that if such aid is defined broadly, by seeking to–

Eliminate the U.S. emergency food aid program at a time of impending famine in Africa: this program, known as Title II of P.L .480 and funded at over $1.5 billion in recent years, has played a key role in averting widespread loss of life around the world. We understand your Administration may seek to fund food aid through other USAID disaster accounts, but reports indicate that the Administration proposal is not providing adequate monies for that purpose.

Provide no funding for a highly regarded special emergency humanitarian fund that has been an important source of flexible support for unanticipated emergencies: We do not understand why the Administration would be proposing to “zero out” the “Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance” Fund. This modest fund, which received a $50 million appropriation in 2017, is one of the few State Department sources of genuinely flexible humanitarian resources and provides the Secretary and the President with tools necessary to ensure rapid response and U.S. leadership on key humanitarian issues. 

Eliminate an “International Organizations and Programs” account that has been employed to fund critical humanitarian and development programs like UNICEF: We are deeply concerned by reports that your Administration is proposing that this account, known as International Organizations and Programs, be “zeroed out.” 

Dramatically reduce U.S. contributions to international peacekeeping: At a tiny fraction of the cost of deploying national militaries, UN peacekeepers play a crucial role in promoting stability in countries threatened by conflict. In recent years, U.S. contributions have been around $2 billion, and the reports we have seen indicate large cuts that may also put us in violation of our treaty commitments. 

Reduce contributions to the Migration and Refugee Assistance Account: This is the principal account through which the State Department provides assistance overseas to those fleeing persecution and violence. We understand that the Administration has been planning to cut the total 2017 appropriation of nearly $3.4 billion by nearly 20%.

Eliminate the U.S. development assistance accounts: U.S. development assistance has played a key role over many decades in promoting the kind of economic, social and political progress that has helped to avoid the kinds of humanitarian crises that create enormous suffering and require much greater expenditure of resources.It has been funded at nearly $3 billion in recent years, and the elimination of these programs would prove devastating. Here again, we understand the Administration may be proposing to fund some of these activities through other accounts, but reports indicate that the monies being proposed are wholly insufficient.

Taken together, these and other cuts would dramatically impact the capacity of the United States not only to lead in addressing the world’s most dire humanitarian challenges, but also simply to partner with those friends and allies as they bear the primary burden of providing safe haven for refugees and displaced persons. 

We emphasize that, at far less than 1% of the total federal budget, funding for humanitarian response, broadly defined, is an exceptionally modest investment.

We again respectfully request that you delay submission of this budget, or at least the elements related to humanitarian assistance, and that you reconsider these drastic and unnecessary cuts and reverse them. 

Sincerely,

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Eric Schwartz
Incoming President, Refugees International

Michel Gabaudan
President, Refugees International

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