April 23, 2020 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs Lester Munson, Larry Nowels, and Tessie San Martin.
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network was pleased to see the State Department’s recent decision to partially resume foreign assistance funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, following more than a year of uncertainty over this aid.
The MFAN Co-Chairs previously wrote to Secretary Pompeo regarding the suspension of this assistance, emphasizing the need for funding decisions to be evidence-based and transparent. To be most effective, U.S. foreign aid should be directed to where the need is greatest and where it can have the most impact. While the coalition applauds the reinstatement of some of the assistance, MFAN notes that the resumption should be based on an analysis of priority needs in the region today, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and what specific types of programs offer the best evidence of effectively supporting those priorities.
Many of the suspended programs were intended to reduce the violence and poverty that drive migration from Central America. If the intent was to curb migration from the region into the U.S., the suspension of assistance to Central America could prove counter-productive in the long-term. In the short-term, the elimination of programs intended to curb violence and poverty in these countries has likely left vulnerable communities weaker as they now face efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Additionally, MFAN notes that recent studies have found that cuts, and in some cases even proposed cuts, such as the pause in assistance to Central America, result in lost staff time, inefficient program implementation, and a hit to U.S. credibility. When funding for a program is suddenly in question, these studies found that time, money, and impact is lost.
MFAN applauds House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel for requesting a Government Accountability Office study to assess the full costs of suspending U.S. assistance to Central America. MFAN echoes this call and emphasizes the importance of an assessment of the programs that were forced to close prematurely, and of the programmatic, outcome-based, administrative, and credibility costs of suspending and reinstating U.S. assistance to Central America. This will help guide future investments in the region and may also help future administrations accurately weigh the risks of suspending foreign assistance to obtain policy outcomes.