McConnell, Rogers must make the moral case for foreign aid

This March, 2017 photo shows a UNICEF-supported outpatient therapeutic program for the malnourished, near Aweil, in South Sudan.
This March, 2017 photo shows a UNICEF-supported outpatient therapeutic program for the malnourished, near Aweil, in South Sudan. AP file photo

As a pastor in Clay County, I usually stay silent on politics. But when it comes to millions of people dying around the world from poverty, disease and starvation, my faith compels me to speak up.

President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal included a roughly 30 percent cut to the international affairs budget. Hidden within that proposal were even deeper cuts to global education, nutrition and food security programs.

All told, these efforts would erode America’s longstanding commitment to combating extreme poverty and disease no matter where it festers.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. Kentucky is blessed to have not one, but two of the most influential leaders in Congress who have the power to make this right: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.

America’s leadership in the global fight against extreme poverty is unquestionably one of the United States’ most important legacies. Just how important is American generosity? Our leadership is catalytic and irreplaceable. American foreign assistance saves millions of lives, lifts millions out of poverty, promotes stability, spurs economic growth, and brings hope to the most desolate of places.

Foreign aid isn’t just charity, it’s an investment in the collective future of both ourselves and others. American generosity makes our nation safer, creates economic opportunities, and moves us closer to the day in which American foreign assistance is no longer needed because all are cared for.

If you want to see America’s global impact in action, look no further than the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). When President Bush launched the United States’ signature HIV/AIDS program, the disease was casting a wave of death and despair that threatened to overtake the continent of Africa and the world beyond.

At the time, more than 5,000 people were dying from AIDS every day and another 7,000 were being infected with the disease. United States assistance through PEPFAR and organizations like the Global Fund completely turned the tide in fight against the disease. By working with non-governmental organizations, including many churches and faith-based ministries, America brought life-saving HIV/AIDS treatments to the furthest reaches of the Earth.

Since its peak, AIDS-related deaths have been cut in half and over 13 million lives have been saved.

Regrettably, the president’s budget proposes to cut PEPFAR by nearly 11 percent and the Global Fund by 31 percent. Congressman Rogers and Senator McConnell would be wise to make sure these cuts don’t come to pass. They should support funding that is bold enough to ensure that our nation’s international commitments are honored and our goals for combating extreme global poverty and preventable disease are achieved.

Foreign assistance is a critical tool for helping end extreme poverty, but isn’t the only one in America’s toolbox. The investment of American businesses in developing countries can also be a transformative force for good, but is currently under-utilized. The Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act (BUILD) Act, a bipartisan bill that is to be introduced this month, is an innovative way for companies to help developing countries build infrastructure and bring first-time access to electricity to those in need. It’s a good, pragmatic proposal that McConnell and Rogers should cosponsor and champion.

There are some who argue that because poverty and sickness exist here in Kentucky, we should focus solely on addressing our own problems. As a Christian, I cannot in good conscience care about my neighbors living next door and ignore my neighbors living down the street. The same is true for my neighbors living in developing countries who desperately need our help.

Through my work at Oneida Baptist Institute I have had the opportunity to minister to students from impoverished areas of Africa. I have seen first-hand the potential of every student, regardless of race or origin. As a country, the United States of America must help those who are less fortunate, for if not us, then who?”

In the book of Proverbs, King Lemuel reminds us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” As a man of faith, I believe I have a duty to speak for those who cannot. And as fellow men of faith, it is my hope that McConnell and Rogers will do the same by protecting the international affairs budget and giving millions of people in developing countries the opportunities they want and deserve.

David Robinson is an Oneida-based volunteer with The ONE Campaign, a policy and advocacy organization taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.