BY BISHOP ROBERT E. GUGLIELMONE
I do not envy our elected officials these days. They are faced with many difficult choices, with many pressures coming from different directions, with many asking for resources and many others trying to limit those resources.
In making difficult choices to reduce future unsustainable deficits, our leaders must keep in mind the plight of the poor, here and around the world. Those among us who have the least power and the greatest need should be at the forefront of their minds.
For me, this is a moral choice. My church asks that we — individually, as communities and as a nation — give special consideration to the poor, that we recognize our obligation to help those who are not just at the bottom of the ladder, but those who are below that, trying desperately to reach the bottom rung, constantly pushed down by forces beyond their control.
But helping the poor is not just a matter of good morality, it also makes good sense.
Poverty-focused foreign assistance programs account for a fraction of one percent of the federal budget. As such, they have almost no impact on our fiscal problems. But they do demonstrate our country’s commitment to the global common good, and they’re a good investment in the future of the world we share.
As many Americans know, reducing poverty around the world, reducing the chaos, the pain, the powerlessness that comes with poverty, adds to our nation’s security. It improves the image of the United States while reducing the number of recruits for those who would harm us.
Education, health, nutrition: Such things are the foundations of a good economy. Children whose growth is stunted because they did not get an adequate diet do not become dynamic leaders. Youngsters who do not learn to read, to write, to do math, to understand science and history, do not grow up into businessmen and entrepreneurs. People who are sick do not make a good workforce.
This is what our poverty-focused foreign aid supports — building schools, providing clean water and sanitation, planting better crops, getting adequate health care.
These programs do not give handouts to corrupt governments, they reach our hands out to those in need. That reach is most often supplied by private aid organizations, many faith-based, working in partnership with our government and with local groups on the ground in Africa, Asia, Latin America, around the world.
One of the most important of these programs is PEPFAR — the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Started by President George W. Bush with bipartisan support, PEPFAR has had a profound impact on the AIDS pandemic. Literally millions of people are alive today because of PEPFAR. They are productive members of their societies. They are assets to, not burdens on, their countries’ economies. Their children are not orphans, dependent on charity. PEPFAR is a magnificent success. It has helped build sustainable health systems around the world. Its programs are now being handed over to local governments and organizations. Now is the time to build on that success, to push back harder against the spread of HIV, not backtrack and let this disease spread further.
This is not the time to backtrack on any of our anti-poverty work around the world. You can see the results everywhere — most notably in growing economies in Africa fueled by healthy, educated people. During the recent drought in East Africa, there were hardships but no famine in Kenya and Ethiopia in large part because of work to support access to water and better agricultural practices funded by our aid money. The famine was in Somalia, where chaos had limited aid work. This is the real progress our poverty-based foreign aid makes, and it must continue.
We all know the divisiveness that has gripped our political system. Perhaps we all can agree that helping the poor overseas to find a way out of poverty is a good investment that helps ensure our nation’s security. It’s good for them. It’s good for us. It’s good for our country. And it’s good for our souls.
The Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone is bishop of the Diocese of Charleston.