U.S. government needs to fortify its nutrition budget

In rural Zambia, USAID programs in partnership with the Zambian government are helping equip villagers with the knowledge of proper nutrients. Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Taylor Amos and Jordan Teague

While budget and appropriations season may seem drab to most people, it is actually one of the most crucial time periods on Capitol Hill. A lot is determined during this time for the funding levels and policy of federal programs that Bread for the World is concerned about. In a previous blog post, we shared three reasons you should pay attention to appropriations this year. Those reasons hold true and are now even more important.

Earlier this year, President Obama released his budget request for fiscal year 2017. This proposed budget sets the stage for Congress’ discussions going forward on appropriations, including funding for global maternal and child nutrition programs. Unfortunately, the president’s budget request comes up short in addressing malnutrition.

For fiscal year 2017, the president budgeted only $108.5 million for nutrition in Global Health Programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This represents a nearly $17 million cut from the level Congress agreed to for fiscal year 2016 – $125 million – and is far below Bread’s recommended $230 million for fiscal year 2017.

This is troublesome. Over the last five years, funding for global nutrition programs has increased steadily and as a result increased our impact in the fight against global hunger and malnutrition.  Global nutrition programs have become quite popular with members of Congress because of their high return on investment and the number of mothers and children who have been reached with limited funds.

While dealing with a $4 trillion budget, a cut of nearly $17 million to certain programs may not seem like a lot. But when nearly half of all deaths of children not yet 5 years old can be linked to malnutrition, you begin to get the sense of urgency for global nutrition that the president’s budget request lacks. Proper nutrition has been linked to the reduction deaths of children under 5 and mothers during pregnancy. As the leader in global development, the United States sets the tone for our partners.

Investing in maternal and child nutrition is a “best buy” in global health and international development. Evidence tells us that, in general, every $1 invested in global maternal and child nutrition reaps $18 in benefits, even up to $166 in certain circumstances. Improving nutrition decreases healthcare costs, enables people to have more productive livelihoods, and improves educational outcomes. In order for every mother to survive and thrive, we must continue the progress we have made to ensure every mother and child becomes food- and nutrition-secure.

This year, it is even more important for the U.S. government to demonstrate leadership and commitment to global nutrition with the upcoming Nutrition for Growth summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August. This summit is an opportunity for governments to come together, make commitments, and ensure that there are sufficient funding and policy resources to put the world on track to reach the goal of ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Leadership from the U.S. government is critical in catalyzing and sustaining momentum on nutrition from other countries at this summit.

The U.S. government should be scaling up investments in global nutrition to both better and more quickly reach mothers and children with critical support for nutrition and support other countries to do the same, not scaling back on our efforts. Strong commitment to global nutrition from both the administration and Congress is needed, and that starts with putting our money where our mouth is.

Tell Congress to increase funding for the nutrition and health of mothers, newborns, and young children today. Learn more about the 2016 Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive, and make sure to participate in a letter-writing event.

Taylor Amos is the Art Simon Fellow and Jordan Teague is the international policy analyst for food security and nutrition at Bread for the World.

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