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Hungry People Overseas Hit Hardest by Proposed Cuts

Food for vulnerable people at stake

May 2011

The most alarming provisions of H.R. 1, the House spending bill discussed in this issue’s front-page story, affect some of the poorest people in the world. These provisions would make drastic cuts to international humanitarian and development assistance programs, such as emergency food aid, health (including HIV treatment), child survival, clean water, and sustainable agriculture.

Food aid and the McGovern-Dole program, which provides school lunches to children from poor families, would face the largest cuts: 46 percent. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be stripped from each of several other accounts, including Development Assistance, PEPFAR, Global Health and Child Survival, and the Millennium Challenge Account.

H.R. 1 did not become law because the Senate did not agree to an equivalent bill. However, House and Senate versions of spending bills are used as a basis for negotiations to reach a final compromise law. Reaching a fair agreement on FY2011 spending will be complicated by including H.R. 1, with its indiscriminate cuts, as one of the starting points.

H.R. 1 appears to tap those in the most precarious situations to sacrifice most deeply in the name of reducing the U.S. budget deficit. For more on why cutting these programs, however drastically, is not a workable solution to our country’s budget deficits, see the background paper in this issue of Bread.

The spending cuts in the bill would affect hungry and vulnerable people almost overnight. Survivors of natural disasters and wars would literally see less food, if any at all, in the packages distributed by relief workers.  Schoolchildren in poor countries, farmers working to grow more badly-needed food, people receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV/AIDS, and children orphaned by AIDS—a group that includes “heads of household” as young as 11 struggling to support younger siblings—are among the tens of millions who would lose vital services.

The cuts are particularly short-sighted because they eliminate efforts to enable people to build better futures and help their communities become self-sufficient. Consider, for example, the impact agricultural development funds can have in Haiti. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, subsistence farmer Jeanne Ornelie Desir took in 12 extended family members who had lost everything. But usually, Desir and her husband manage to grow only enough food for themselves and their children.

With agricultural development training and support implemented by Catholic Relief Services and its local partner, Caritas Haiti, Desir has been able to grow several vegetable crops to supplement her newly-expanded household’s diet and to sell for extra income. “We are now planting trees to fertilize the land,” she says. The help Desir and other farmers receive is a modest investment that brings long-term benefits as some of Haiti’s earthquake survivors begin to help revive the country’s farming sector.

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