It’s a busy time of year in Washington, DC. Last week, President Trump’s annual budget request was released, calling for deep cuts to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Just days later, Action Against Hunger and other organizations sent a clear message to Congress: Keep up the bipartisan tradition of leading humanitarian and development work around the world.
The President’s budget is a non-binding document that lays out the Administration’s policy priorities and kicks off the annual appropriations cycle. This year, the White House proposed a 24 percent slash in funding for the State Department and USAID for Fiscal Year 2020 – cutting the budget from $55 billion to $42.7 billion. This proposed cut is deep and disproportionate, and would severely the impact of U.S. humanitarian and development programs in the countries where we work.
Some key takeaways from the administration’s budget proposal:
- Food aid and disaster assistance: Both the Food for Peace program, which alleviates hunger and support the world’s most vulnerable people, and the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account, which saves lives following disasters like earthquakes, conflicts, and floods, are eliminated in the budget request and would be combined with other programs into a single new account for humanitarian assistance. The budget proposes a cut of 34 percent to overall humanitarian assistance.
- Nutrition: This account would be cut by more than 45 percent, from $145 million to $78.5 million.
- Feed the Future: The U.S. government’s flagship food security program would be cut by more than half from $1 billion to $492 million.
- Maternal and Child Health: This account would be cut from $835 million to $619 million.
- Development: The Development Assistance account--which fuels global programs for poverty reduction, education, agricultural production, and more, and which Congress funded at $3 billion in FY19, would be eliminated and instead consolidated into a new “Economic Support and Development Fund.”
As the White House put forth these sharp cuts, the State/Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in the House of Representatives held a hearing where organizations and witnesses testified in support of strong funding for international affairs. The testimony by our CEO, Andrea Tamburini, urged Congress to increase funding for the nutrition account to $250 million. This increase would allow for the scaling up of successful nutrition interventions to help save more lives.
As Tamburini noted in his testimony:
The most practical and scalable means to detect acute malnutrition at the community level is through the measurement and classification of a child’s mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC). Once malnourished children are detected, they can be referred to treatment. Historically, MUAC screening at community level has been the primary responsibility of community health workers. However, mounting evidence suggests that families can also play a significant role in carrying out MUAC screening in their own homes.
Family MUAC is a community screening approach that empowers mothers, caregivers and other family members to screen their own children for acute malnutrition using color-coded MUAC tapes. Neither literacy or numeracy skills are required. Parents and other family members are best placed to see the signs of malnutrition in children first: our approach places families at the center of malnutrition screening strategies.
Today, just one in four malnourished children can access treatment. Involving mothers and caregivers in MUAC screening enables them to develop a better understanding of the signs of malnutrition and to monitor their children’s nutrition status more often. When mothers, fathers, and other caregivers have tools like a MUAC band to measure and classify acute malnutrition, cases are detected earlier and more children are referred and treated through community or integrated management of acute malnutrition programs. Frequent screenings also lead to the earlier detection of acute malnutrition. If earlier diagnosis is combined with timely action, we can reduce the number of deaths related to malnutrition, decrease program costs due to shorter treatment times, and lower the proportion of children requiring expensive in-patient care for severe acute malnutrition with complications.
Family MUAC is just one of many interventions that works. An increase in funding for nutrition programming by the U.S. government can provide an opportunity for Action Against Hunger and other organizations to scale up our work in Family MUAC and other successful nutrition diagnostic and treatment strategies, and most importantly, to save more lives.
Now that the Administration has released its budget proposal, the Senate and House of Representatives will begin crafting their FY20 appropriations bills. Action Against Hunger will continue to advocate for strong funding for international development, particularly nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene, and food security. We hope Congress will maintain its bipartisan tradition of investing in international development as we work to alleviate hunger and malnutrition around the world.