I returned home to Kansas last week from the ONE Campaign’s annual Power Summit in Washington, a gathering of volunteers from across the country committed to ending global poverty and preventable disease. This year’s summit came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal that calls for a roughly 30 percent cut to international affairs funding.
While in Washington, I had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Kevin Yoder to explain the disastrous impacts these cuts would have on the nation’s diplomacy and development programs worldwide. Congressional leaders would be wise to take notice and action to make sure these cuts do not become a reality.
Just how devastating is the president’s budget proposal? Buried within it is a $424 million cut (31 percent) to the Global Fund, a critical organization that works to combat epidemics like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers, but behind these cuts are real people, many of whom are children, whose lives will be put in jeopardy.
These cuts would result in 454,000 fewer people from being put on antiretroviral therapy, 131,000 fewer women being placed on treatment to prevent the passing of HIV to their babies and 650,000 fewer people getting tuberculosis treatment and care — in just one year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For years, the United States has been a leader in fighting poverty and preventable disease around the globe. In 2003, before the United States entered the global fight against HIV/AIDS, 5,000 people were dying from the disease every day and another 7,000 were being infected. When the United States chooses to lead, we have the power to change the course of human history.
Since the United States launched the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, AIDS-related deaths have been cut in half since their peak and over 13 million lives have been saved. Trump’s budget, however, would cut PEPFAR by nearly 11 percent. This is unacceptable and it would erode America’s longstanding commitment to combating the disease. Our response in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other preventable diseases should be to lead, not surrender.
In addition to saving millions of lives, American generosity lifts people out of poverty, promotes stability, and brings us closer to the day in which foreign aid is no longer needed. American leadership has the power to spur economic growth in developing countries and by modernizing our massively under-utilized private-sector engagement tools, we have the potential to make an even greater impact.
Although not a replacement for foreign aid, efforts to build infrastructure, start businesses, and expand energy access in developing countries could bring tens of billions of dollars in new investment — and the ingenuity, expertise, and resourcefulness of the private sector — to the fight against extreme poverty.
Last week, a bipartisan proposal called The Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development or BUILD Act was introduced in both chambers. The bill outlines an innovative way to bring tens of billions of new private-sector dollars to work in developing countries. All told, it will give the U.S. government new tools for partnering with entrepreneurs and leveraging non-taxpayer dollars, while making it easier for American businesses to operate in emerging markets.
The bill is a no-brainer, and it’s the type of proposal that Yoder should be eager to support and shepherd through the House of Representatives. My fellow Kansans care deeply about this bill and we will stand behind Yoder if he helps advance it.
While there is no single action that will end global poverty, Congress has the power to make strides towards this effort by fully supporting America’s development programs and by passing measures like the BUILD Act that help modernize America’s private-sector engagement tools in developing countries.
In the face of alarming new threats to our national security, the worst global food crisis in more than 50 years, and millions of people living in poverty, lawmakers like Yoder must continue the United States’ leadership in the fight against extreme global poverty and preventable disease.
We cannot afford to wait. The time for action is now.
Megan Peters lives in Overland Park with her husband and two children. She is a small business owner and a volunteer leader for the ONE Campaign in Kansas’ 3rd District.