The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Budget calls for deep cuts to foreign aid, especially for refugees and in humanitarian crises

The Trump administration is proposing slashing the budget for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by almost 24 percent, with particularly steep cuts to humanitarian aid, refugee assistance and global health programs.

The proposed 2020 budget would take three funds that collectively are funded by more than $9 billion and consolidate them into an International Humanitarian Assistance fund that would be allotted about $6 billion, a one-third drop. In addition, the administration proposes cutting global health programs from $8.7 billion this year to $6.3 billion next year, a cut of almost 28 percent.

The White House budget request reflects the priorities of the administration, which has not been successful at getting its proposals past a Congress in which foreign spending enjoys wide bipartisan support. The administration submitted even deeper drops in foreign spending during each of the previous two years, and Congress largely restored them.

This year, more than a dozen retired military officers who commanded in combat zones urged Congress to do the same, calling the cuts a threat to national security.

“Congress will forget this budget by Friday, but the signal it sends to the world’s poorest will be remembered,” said Tom Hart, director of the One Campaign, which promotes health campaigns around the world.

State Department officials defended the budget, saying the United States remains the world’s largest contributor to global health and humanitarian efforts. They said the State Department’s proposed budget reflects the desire to reward U.S. allies with similar goals and get other donors to be more generous.

“The U.S. will continue its role as the world leader in humanitarian assistance, but we’ll also call on others to do their part, and we’ll work relentlessly to assure that assistance is delivered as effectively and as efficiently as possible,” said Mark Green, the administrator of USAID.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan declared, “This budget positions the United States to win.”

The biggest target in the budget is the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which would lose almost 90 percent of its budget. It is expected to spend $3.3 billion this year on refugee assistance. But next year’s contribution could come out of the new International Humanitarian Assistance fund, which would be administered by USAID, an independent agency that is connected to the State Department.

The State Department proposes spending $365 million on the bureau next year. That would include $40 million in administrative costs and $5 million to relocate and settle Jewish migrants in Israel. The remaining $320 million would run the refugee admissions program and go to groups that help refugees settle in the United States.

The State Department has capped refugee admissions this year at 30,000, a record low.

The new humanitarian fund also would be responsible for aid now directed through Food for Peace, which will spend $1.7 billion this year and International Disaster Assistance, which got more than $4 billion.

Development aid groups have long recommended consolidating accounts to streamline responses to humanitarian disasters. Keeping them separate and narrowly focused can hold up assistance.

“Putting three accounts into a single account would be a good idea, if it’s not used to cover cuts in collective resources by a third,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International who was an assistant secretary of state for the refugees bureau, also considers the proposed consolidation a pretext for sizable cuts.

“There are millions of women and children who are going to suffer as a result,” he said. “It’s just infuriating that the president, the secretary of state and people connected to the president talk about America being a leader in the international humanitarian response.”