The Trump administration’s proposed budget has faced strong bipartisan criticism. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) called it “dead on arrival.” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) deemed it “a short-sighted and cruel budget” that “abandons working families.” However, there is surprisingly strong bipartisan disdain for Trump’s behemoth cuts to the Department of State (DoS).
The decision to merge DoS with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is a double whammy for the future of foreign aid. That budget is down nearly 28% from last year. With these cuts, proposed USAID Director Mark Green will be forced to prioritize initiatives and fieldwork.
This could be a positive development. Many argue that USAID has a history of spreading itself too thin. It’s possible that specificity and focus might be exactly what the agency needs.
However, even with greater focus, the numbers don’t seem to support President Trump’s stated goals. This is especially true for global nutrition efforts.
President Trump has reiterated his his commitment to “quality prenatal, maternal, and newborn care.” It’s true that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life—from conception to his or her second birthday—are the most vital for proper development. However, Trump’s proposed budget only provides $78.5 million to USAID for nutrition-related efforts. Obama’s FY16 budget request topped out at $101 million—which is still far too little for the gravity of the problem.
Experts in the field refer to this as the “45-1 conundrum.” Deaths from malnutrition account for 45% of childhood mortality, yet only receive 1% of foreign aid funding.
In the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation’s annual letter, the Microsoft founder deemed nutrition “the biggest missed opportunity in health.” Gates encouraged governments to amp up their funding.
These moral arguments seem compelling. However, the Trump administration is not shy about its penchant for minimized costs and large returns on investments. In this regard, the case for global nutrition is simple. Experts estimate that every $1 invested in nutrition provides a return of up to $138 in improved productivity and health.
Congress ultimately has control of appropriations, and members will spend the upcoming months quarreling among themselves in attempt to secure funding that advances their party platform. However, that doesn’t mean Mark Green, Rex Tillerson, and President Trump can’t still improve their proposal.
Prioritizing global nutrition could help President Trump’s administration make the FY18 USAID budget “the best deal in the history of deals.”