Kentucky voices: Don't balance U.S. budget on world's impoverished

Congress is nearing a vote on the federal budget with profound moral implications: Drastic cuts proposed for poverty-focused international humanitarian and development assistance will harm people around the world. Many will be poorer. Children will suffer. Hunger will increase. The sick will go untreated. And hope will fade.

Certainly Congress faces difficult fiscal challenges, including an obligation to future generations. But to meet these challenges by skirting our obligation to the poorest people in the poorest places on earth as they, too, face the impact of a global economic downturn is both wrong and unwise. We must be fiscally and morally responsible.

Consider East Africa, which is now suffering from its worst drought in over 60 years. In Ethiopia and Kenya, rates of malnutrition and death are much less than might be expected. Why? Because over the last few decades, the United States and other generous donors have worked in these drought-prone areas. With U.S. government support, organizations such as Catholic Relief Services have supported improved agriculture, drilled wells and helped develop irrigation.

Where is the impact of the drought the most severe? Where has the United Nations declared a famine for the first time in two decades? In Somalia, where political instability and violence have prevented development. Without our support, the people of Somalia are defenseless in the face of drought. They have fled by the hundreds of thousands to neighboring countries in search of food.

The emergency response now needed in Somalia will be much more expensive than the prudent investments we have made in Ethiopia. It would have been so much better, both morally and fiscally, if we had found a way to help the Somalis all along, with diplomacy and development.

Some politicians point to polls that show many Americans want to cut foreign aid before anything else, but they ignore polls that show most would actually spend much more on foreign aid. These polls confirm the generosity of Americans: they would spend 10-13 percent of the budget on helping the poor around the world — much more than the 1 percent we now spend. Those same polls show great support for aid which goes to help the poor, to medicines, to vaccines, to help children orphaned by the AIDS epidemicand to others in desperate need.

This is not surprising. The U. S. is a country of great compassion. We are a blessed nation with a special moral obligation to the world's poor. As we suffer an economic crisis, do our hearts not go out even more to those living with so much less?

The U. S. must keep extending a helping hand. It is the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. And it is a good investment, for our wallets and for our souls. Congress must not keep cutting poverty-focused international humanitarian and development assistance.