How Trump’s budget will hurt the world’s poorest people

The Ethiopian government estimates that 5.6 million people will need humanitarian assistance this year. In the Somali region of the country, many people have told Oxfam that they are dependent on food and water aid to survive. Photo: Tina Hillier / Oxfam

The proposed budget seeks balance at the expense of the most vulnerable.

Today the Trump administration released its first budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. The proposal deals a severe blow to US poverty fighting and humanitarian assistance programs. It suggests a cut of roughly one third of foreign assistance—which includes programs that provide humanitarian support for refugees, fight diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria, improves access to education and nutritious food, and helps developing countries adapt to climate change.

These cuts are the most severe in recent memory, and the message is clear: the administration is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the world’s poorest people and at the expense of US global leadership. While the proposal is heavy on rhetoric and light on details, some of the implications of the draconian cuts are apparent.

Drastic cuts for refugee assistance

Abed with one of his sons in their small Amman flat. He is awaiting resettlement to the US. He lost the youngest of his five children who suffered from a heart condition and passed away in Jordan where he couldn't get the required medical help. Photo: Thomas Louapre

The proposal eliminates one source of funding for refugee and migration assistance, and indicates, without specifics, that overall humanitarian funding will be further cut—an almost unthinkable proposal when more than 65 million people are displaced globally and severe food crises loom in four countries. The proposal also states that food aid, disaster, and refugee assistance cuts would “focus funding on the highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share,” while at the same time slashing US support for the United Nations (UN) agencies that carry out this vital work. There is nothing to indicate how these cuts would induce other countries to increase their own contributions.

Ignoring damage caused by climate change

Marta Chicaj Guierrez, on the slope down to a dribble of a stream, near her home in Las Joyas, Guatemala. Photo: Coco McCabe / Oxfam

At a time when we are witnessing the additional stress that climate change is placing on communities around the world, the Trump administration’s budget proposal essentially zeros out funding for all climate change programs. This includes initiatives that help developing countries build resilience to climate shocks and pursue low-emission energy solutions. The budget slashes the Green Climate Fund, which was established to lift people out of poverty and to help countries themselves invest in inclusive, sustainable growth, and it eliminates contributions to the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds that were established with bipartisan support under the George W. Bush administration.

“America First” means poor people come last

The same short-sighted approach to international partnership appears in the proposed cuts to US contributions to the World Bank. For poverty-fighting aid, the budget outline promises “sufficient resources” for popular and visible global health programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which provides access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services to millions around the world; the GAVI vaccine alliance, which helps to ensure children are vaccinated against preventable diseases, and malaria programs, though again without specifics.

Making poverty political

In South Sudan, 100,000 people are facing starvation now and a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine in Unity State. Photo: Simon Rawles

The proposal states that it aims to “refocus economic and development assistance”. It suggests that the Trump administration intends to use such anti-poverty aid as a political reward to “countries of greatest strategic importance to the US”. There is no indication of how levels of need of the poorest countries will factor into funding decisions. Politicizing development assistance in this way will do little to tackle the root causes of poverty or contribute to US national security.

The White House describes this as a $10.9 billion overall cut. Although the proposal provides no specific detail on funding for development assistance, there will be no way to implement a cut of that scale, while protecting funds for some global health programs, without excessively harsh and severe cuts to development and humanitarian assistance programs – programs which help to ensure millions of children can go to school, families have the nutritious food they need, and entrepreneurs have the resources they need to start-up and scale-up, among many other things.

Now it’s up to the US Congress to fight back against such drastic cuts, and each of us as citizens to keep up the pressure on them until they do so. What this budget signals is that the US is willing to risk the lives of millions around the world as they cope with the effects of a changing climate, conflict, and famine under the guise of putting ‘America First’. The trouble is, cuts to foreign assistance programs will do more to put America’s economic and national security at risk than to preserve it.

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