What every American should know about US foreign aid. (2023)

vital functions

Foreign aid is money, technical assistance, and goods that the United States provides to other countries in support of a common US-US interest. Opinion polls consistently report that Americans believe that foreign aid accounts for about 25% of the federal budget when in fact it is less than 1%. As the richest nation in the world, the US provides more aid than any other country, but a smaller percentage of its gross domestic product (GNP) than other wealthy nations. Historically, support for foreign aid has been bipartisan.

  • At $39.2 billion for fiscal 2019, foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of the federal budget.

  • As the richest nation in the world, the US provides more aid than any other country, but a smaller percentage of its GDP than most other wealthy nations.

  • Polls spanning several decades show consistent support for U.S. relief efforts, with strong support for improving people's health, helping women and girls, educating children, and helping poor countries develop their economies.

a closer look

75 years of US foreign aid has produced more fiction than fact when it comes to how US taxpayers' money is being spent.

At the beginning of an election cycle, it's important for candidates and voters to have a basic understanding of how taxpayers' money supports foreign aid.

What is foreign aid?

(Video) Why Does The U.S. Send Foreign Aid To Other Countries?

Foreign assistance is money, technical assistance, and goods that the United States provides to other countries in support of a common interest of the United States and that country. Usually the support goes to a government agency or municipalities in that country. This assistance generally falls into one of three categories: humanitarian assistance to save lives in natural and man-made disasters; development assistance that promotes the economic, social and political development of countries and communities; and security assistance, helping to strengthen military and security forces in countries allied with the United States. The relative shares vary from year to year, but over time, humanitarian aid accounts for just under a third of the development aid budget, development aid a little over a third, and security aid about a third. In fact, very little is paid in cash, and most humanitarian and development aid funds are not given to government agencies, but are used for technical assistance and products provided by US, international, and local organizations.

How much of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid?

Less than 1%. Opinion polls consistently report that Americans believe foreign aid accounts for about 25% of the federal budget. When asked how much it should be, they say about 10%. In fact, at $39.2 billion for fiscal 2019, foreign aid accounts for less than 1% of the federal budget.

Are other rich countries contributing their fair share?

YES, in relation to its economic size. The United States provides more aid than any other country, which is appropriate as the richest nation in the world. There is a broad international commitment that rich countries should contribute 0.7% of GDP annually to help poor countries. Five countries (Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the UK) outperformed this benchmark. The average of all rich nations is about 0.3%. The United States brings up the rear with a minus of 0.2%.

Is support for foreign aid partisan or non-partisan?

BY TWO POLITICAL PARTIES. Given today's divisive politics, this is surprising. Historically, Democrats have accepted foreign aid more fully than Republicans. Take the Truman Administration, which created the Marshall Plan. Or in the 1990s, when congressional votes on foreign aid spending were tight, the budget bill received more Democratic than Republican votes. Yet every president, Democrat and Republican, down to the current resident of the White House, has been a strong supporter of foreign aid.

In fact, some of the fastest increases in foreign aid have occurred during the Republican presidency: the early administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Since the early 2000s, since President Bush's popular and successful programs (Millennium Challenge Corporation, President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and President's Malaria Initiative) were launched, foreign aid has also now carried a Republican stamp and has received parliamentary support from both sides. Look for no more evidence of this than the recent bipartisan rejection of the Trump administration's proposals to cut the US foreign affairs budget by a third.

Does foreign aid go to corrupt and wasteful governments?

NO. Only about a fifth of US economic aid goes to governments. In 2018, 21% of official U.S. foreign aid went to governments, 20% to nonprofit organizations, 34% to multilateral organizations, and 25% elsewhere. When the US wants to support a country ruled by a corrupt, uncooperative, or autocratic government, US aid usually goes through private channels: NGOs, other private entities, or multilateral organizations. Liability for US financial aid is high: the US imposes strict, some would say onerous, reporting and accounting requirements on recipients of US aid, and the US Inspector General investigates abuses.

Does foreign aid go to autocratic governments?

(Video) Does the United States fund Israel? U.S. Foreign Aid Explained | Unpacked

LESS TODAY. During the Cold War, when foreign aid was often based on the premise "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," some aid went to autocratic governments, regardless of the type of government. This changed fundamentally in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, there are countries that are “semi-democratic” at best, with autocratic elements, but receive US aid because of strong US security interests in their stability. In addition, there is cause for concern that concerns about autocracy are returning in our post-9/11 era with widespread fears of terrorism.

Does foreign aid bring concrete results?

YES. The US government requires regular monitoring and reporting of how and if aid programs are working, and regular evaluation of results. There is concrete evidence that humanitarian and development programs achieve significant results, with the exception of foreign and security policy-oriented programs. While US aid is by no means the only driver, the track record of global development results is impressive. These results include:

  • Extreme poverty has been drastically reduced over the past 30 years: from 1.9 billion people (36% of the world's population) in 1990 to 592 million (8%) in 2019.
  • The maternal, infant and infant mortality rate has been halved.
  • Life expectancy has increased worldwide from 65 years in 1990 to 72 years in 2017.
  • smallpox were conquered; Polio has been eliminated in all but two countries; and deaths from malaria halved between 2000 and 2017.
  • The US PEPFAR program saved 17 million lives from HIV/AIDS and enabled 2.4 million HIV-free babies to be born.
  • Aid programs can promote the country's economic progress and stability, which can lead to citizens staying at home rather than migrating to other countries.

Does foreign aid benefit the US or foreigners?

BOTH. Foreign aid is usually intended to support the security and economic, social and political development of recipient countries and their peoples. At the same time, such support also advances any or all of the following overriding US interests:

  • Contribute to U.S. national security by assisting allies in promoting regional and global peace and stability.
  • They reflect America's core value of caring for those in need and providing humanitarian assistance to victims of war, violence, hunger and natural disasters.
(Video) Foreign Aid: Are we really helping others or just ourselves? | Maliha Chishti | TEDxUTSC
  • Advance US and recipient economic interests by building economies and markets.

Do the American People Support Foreign Aid?

YES. While the term "aid" is not universally popular, and polls show that some find our foreign policy excessive, Americans support America's active engagement in the world. Polls spanning several decades show consistent support for US aid efforts, with particularly strong support for things like improving people's health, helping women and girls, educating children, and helping poor countries develop their economies.

A 2016 Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll found that 64% of Americans believe the US should play an active role in international affairs. 78 percent supported the statement, "The United States must coordinate its power with other countries according to shared ideas about what is best for the world as a whole."

A 2017 University of Maryland Public Research Program poll found that 8 in 10 respondents supported humanitarian aid and two-thirds supported aid that helps countries in need develop their economies. Two-thirds supported the notion that "the world is so interconnected today that it is in the long-term economic interest of the United States to help developing third world countries". The service with strategic purposes receives less support.

Editor's Note: This version of this article was originally published byThe Lipon Forum.

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What is the main purpose of America giving foreign aid? ›

Foreign aid is used to support US national security and commercial interests and can also be distributed for humanitarian reasons. Aid is financed from US taxpayers and other revenue sources that Congress appropriates annually through the United States budget process.

What country gets the most foreign aid from the US? ›

10 countries that receive the most U.S. foreign aid: Afghanistan ($4.89 billion) Israel ($3.3 billion) Jordan ($1.72 billion)
US Foreign Aid by Country 2023.
Ukraine$247.30 Mn$231.72 Mn
Mozambique$220.40 Mn$300.80 Mn
Mali$215.90 Mn$197.37 Mn
Egypt$214.35 Mn$148.90 Mn
138 more rows

How much money does America give in foreign aid? ›

$3.91 billion for International Disaster Assistance. World Bank: $1.43 billion for the International Development Association and $206.5 million for International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. African Development Bank: $54.65 million for the bank and $171.3 million for its African Development Fund.

What are the benefits of foreign aid? ›

Foreign aid can be used to accomplish the political aims of a government, allowing it to obtain diplomatic recognition, to gain respect for its role in international institutions, or to improve the accessibility of its diplomats to foreign countries.

What are the negative impact of foreign aid? ›

According to these researchers, aid has a negative impact on economic growth because economic and political instability, corruption, and weak institutional quality lead to inappropriate usage of foreign aid in a host country.

Who is the largest donor of foreign aid? ›

In 2022, the United States government donated over 12 billion U.S. dollars in humanitarian aid worldwide. Germany followed with over three billion U.S. dollars, while the European Commission donated around two billion U.S. dollars.

Who does the US give the most aid to? ›

7. Afghanistan received $6 billion in U.S. foreign aid in FY2018, the most of any country in the world, with Israel the runner up at $3 billion.

What countries does the US borrow money from? ›

  • Japan. Japan held $1.08 trillion in Treasury securities as of November 2022, beating out China as the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.3 The low and negative yield market in Japan makes holding U.S. debt attractive. ...
  • China. ...
  • The United Kingdom. ...
  • Belgium. ...
  • Luxembourg.

Is the US the largest donor of foreign aid? ›

The United States is a small contributor relative to GNI (0.18% 2016) but is the largest single DAC donor of ODA in 2019 (US$34.6 billion), followed by Germany (0.6% GNI, US$23.8 billion), the United Kingdom (0.7%, US$19.4 billion), Japan (0.2%, US$15.5 billion) and France (0.4%, US$12.2 billion).

Which country receives most aid? ›

What Country Receives the Most Aid? The country that received the most foreign aid is India, which got more than $4.2 billion in aid from the DAC members in 2017. Turkey was a close second with $4.1 billion in aid received.

What are the 3 types of foreign aid? ›

foreign aid, the international transfer of capital, goods, or services from a country or international organization for the benefit of the recipient country or its population. Aid can be economic, military, or emergency humanitarian (e.g., aid given following natural disasters).

Does foreign aid Reduce poverty? ›

One of the main uses of aid is for poverty reduction (Collier & Dollar, 2002). Results from certain statistical inquiries would suggest that foreign aid influences the decline in poverty, which is measured by the poverty rate, poverty gap index and the squared poverty gap index (Alvi & Senbeta, 2011).

What are 3 reasons that countries give foreign aid? ›

There is no argument around the core purpose of aid-giving, which is to address emergency needs, eradicate poverty and contribute to the development and economic growth in lower-income states. States give aid for foreign policy goals, liberal internationalism, economic interests, and domestic policies.

Is foreign aid A Blessing or Curse? ›

In the absence of these preconditions foreign aid helps to postpone the tough decisions required for prudent economic management. Under these circumstances, foreign aid is curse rather than blessing and should be avoided.

Does foreign aid actually help developing countries? ›

Foreign aid is given to developing countries to help with emergency preparedness, disaster relief, economic development and poverty reduction. There are over 20 U.S. government agencies that manage such programs, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) plays the lead role.

Is foreign aid just money? ›

Despite its strong association with the federal budget, foreign aid isn't just money. It's anything that one country donates or provides for the benefit of another country. This can be money. However, foreign aid can also include goods, such as food or technical support.

What is the main purpose of foreign aid quizlet? ›

Its primary aim is to ensure international monetary stability, including currencies and balance of payments.

Why does the United States provide foreign aid quizlet? ›

Why does the United States provide foreign aid? It can help facilitate international agreements.

Does foreign aid help poor countries? ›

Foreign aid is one of the most important policy tools that developed countries use to help poor countries improve population well-being and facilitate economic and institutional development.

What are the four types of foreign aid? ›

  • Types of Foreign Assistance.
  • Disbursements vs. Aid Received.
  • Bilateral Aid.
  • Military Aid.
  • Multilateral Aid.
  • Humanitarian Assistance.

Do we really need foreign powers at present to help US build our country? ›

In addition to fostering stability, promoting economic growth and reducing poverty, foreign assistance also spreads American influence throughout the world and enhances America's reputation and standing.


(IE University)
2. Podcasts: US Foreign Aid Explained: Consequences for Human Rights Protection in Southeast Asia
(Asia Global Institute)
3. Bill Gates explains how people misunderstand U.S. foreign aid
(American Enterprise Institute)
4. Foreign Policy: Crash Course Government and Politics #50
5. How Much Does the U.S. Spend on Foreign Aid and Why?
(Wall Street Journal)
6. A Day in the Life of a U.S. Foreign Aid Worker
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