RI Raises the Alarm on Proposed Cuts in the FY2019 Budget

Statement for the Record

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing

 “Full Committee Hearing Review of the FY 2019 State Department Budget Request”

May 24, 2018

Refugees International (RI) remains alarmed by the significant budget cuts proposed in the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget, which was released on February 12, 2018. Budgets define priorities and this budget proposal, if approved by Congress, would be devastating to lifesaving humanitarian work across the globe. 

The FY 2019 budget request calls for major cuts to key humanitarian accounts when compared to the FY 2018 omnibus funding levels. These cuts will significantly undermine the capacity of the United States to save lives and meet pressing humanitarian needs around the world. Further, there is a very real danger that the proposed cuts would amount to an abdication of U.S. global leadership in humanitarian affairs. 

Specifically, Refugees International is deeply concerned about the proposed reductions in the FY 2019 budget to the following accounts: Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) cut by 17 percent; International Disaster Assistance (IDA) cut by 40 percent; Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) cut by 46 percent; and Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) cut by 13 percent. The FY 2019 budget also calls for the elimination of the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account (ERMA) and P.L. 480 Title II (Food for Peace) as well as major cuts to global health programs and climate change initiatives. 

The impact of such dramatic funding cuts would put vulnerable populations at risk. From UN peacekeeping mission support in Sub-Saharan Africa to food assistance for communities still reeling from famine-related drought impacts to natural disaster response capacity and disaster risk reduction projects to global health support for women and girls, such cuts would have severe consequences.

RI is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people in parts of the world impacted by conflict, persecution and forced displacement. There are currently over 65 million people displaced, the most ever recorded. Protracted crises, such as the horrors of Syria, and new crises, such as the flight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017, make the maintaining of robust U.S. assistance essential. Humanitarian and protection needs demand U.S. leadership and engagement. And any effort to downplay the humanitarian imperative of refugee resettlement, a fundamental protection program, is unconscionable.

But the ability to assist and protect those in need isn’t just about funding. The State Department and USAID’s organizational structures, designated responsibilities, stated policy priorities, and capacity is equally important. The ultimate result of a State Department redesign will likely have significant consequences for U.S. assistance and diplomacy.

RI convened a group of leading experts and former senior U.S. government officials that published an August 2017 report on U.S. government reorganization. The group recommended that the State Department and USAID should retain essential functions while enhancing “jointness,” complementarity and coordination as opposed to consolidation. The report underscored the key role of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). PRM’s unique blend of senior diplomatic engagement and humanitarian assistance has served to elevate the plight of the displaced and directly benefited the lives of countless refugees. The bureau’s leadership has also been essential in addressing broader protection challenges and supporting refugee resettlement.

Congress absolutely has an important role to play in any redesign effort. The lack of transparency about the State Department’s redesign process to policy makers, NGOs, and key partners, as well as limited substantive consultations with stakeholders, raise further questions about the ultimate goals, particularly as key diplomatic posts remain unfilled and troubling staffing gaps continue. Congress must hold the administration accountable for the lack of senior appointments at the State Department. 

We thank the Congress for continued bipartisan efforts to support lifesaving humanitarian assistance at this critical time of international need and remain grateful that Congress previously rejected similarly proposed cuts in the President’s FY 2018 budget. This aid is making a difference on the ground, as RI regularly witnesses during our frequent field assessments.  Members should be proud of longstanding U.S. support of humanitarian and development actors who are admirably working in difficult and insecure environments to assist the world’s most vulnerable populations. The only response to this irresponsible and dangerous budget proposal is to ensure that significant U.S. support must be and will be maintained and strengthened.