Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
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Helping Our Neighbors At Home and Abroad

By David Beckmann on July 30, 2009
© La Opinion

In Chinandega, Nicaragua, widow Nubia Baca has built up a 60-head dairy ranch and a profitable cheese-making business. She now employs six men at her ranch and three women. Her son and daughter both emigrated, one to the United States, to find jobs. Nubia hopes that one of them might return to take over the ranch as she ages.

In Matagalpa, farmer Pedro Granada is learning how to use worms to produce organic fertilizer for his crops. Right now what he’s growing will be used to feed his wife and three children. But he hopes that a small plot of coffee will soon produce income to put his children through school and on to university.

What does the work of Nubia and Pedro have in common? Their efforts are being supported in part by foreign assistance from the United States. U.S. foreign assistance has worked miracles around the globe. But it is outdated and in need of an overhaul.

U.S. global development programs are designed to reduce hunger and poverty in poor countries through projects such as agriculture, nutrition, clean water, education, and health care.  Despite the fact that poverty-focused foreign aid programs account for only one-half of one percent of our annual budget, the United States is still the world’s largest contributor of development assistance to poor countries. U.S. assistance has helped to reduce child deaths, increase school enrolment, and curtail the incidence of AIDS.

The good that U.S. foreign assistance does is impeded by   bureaucracy and the complexity of the process. Currently global development policies and programs are scattered across 12 departments, 25 different agencies, and nearly 60 government offices. U.S. foreign assistance is still largely governed by a law passed in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy.

The world has changed dramatically in the past 50 years. The opportunities and challenges we now face argue for a fresh approach to global development. By refocusing and streamlining our aid, we could increase U.S. assistance to poor and hungry people around the world. More lives can be saved if foreign aid is fixed. Fewer children will die of hunger. Parents will be able to feed their families in the years to come. Better foreign assistance also means less waste and more impact for our tax dollars.

A bill now moving through the U.S. Congress would take a much smarter approach to foreign assistance. The Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 2139) would require President Barack Obama to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy for global development, to improve evaluation of development programs, and to increase the transparency of U.S. foreign assistance to developing countries. The legislation has 91 bipartisan cosponsors, including some members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus, and needs to garner more in order to move toward passage.

The Latino community knows what it means to help our neighbors like Nubia and Pedro, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or the next continent. Our eyes and hearts are wide open to people who work hard and still go to bed hungry every night. But we have to use our heads and our voices to help give hardworking people a chance to feed their families and earn their own way out of poverty to become self-sufficient.

Latino religious leaders recently gathered in Washington, D.C., for a historic consultation about citizen advocacy to end hunger. The conference culminated in meetings with members of Congress to discuss the need for better—not just more—foreign assistance that reduces poverty. But the action didn’t stop on Capitol Hill. People of faith and good will from Los Angeles to Miami are urging our nation’s decision makers to fix foreign aid now.

It is time for our elected leaders to take the first step toward reforming foreign assistance by passing H.R. 2139. The bill was introduced by Democratic Rep. Howard Berman from Van Nuys and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk from Illinois. So far, 13 of California’s 53 U.S. Representatives have cosponsored the legislation. The bipartisan bill deserves swift and decisive support, especially from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

A more efficient foreign assistance system—with better coordination, better accountability, better clarity—means that people get a better chance to climb out of poverty. By telling that to our members of Congress, we have a better chance to help them.

Rev. David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

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