7 things you may not know about US foreign assistance | Oxfam America The Politics of Poverty Blog

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7 things you may not know about US foreign assistance

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From the cover of Oxfam’s third edition of Foreign Aid 101, a quick and easy guide that dispels the common myths around foreign aid to developing countries. Here community members in Sri Lanka rate NGOs in their response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Photo: Atul Loke / Panos for Oxfam America

Few Americans would disagree that the aim of US foreign assistance to developing countries must be to help people help themselves. But did you know…?


1) Foreign assistance is a bargain.


For the last few years, the US devoted just 0.7 percent of the federal budget to poverty-focused foreign assistance. In FY2014, the US government spent $23.4 billion on it around the world. Cutting foreign aid will not solve our nation’s budget problems, but it will impact the efforts of local leaders around the world making positive changes in their nations and neighborhoods.

2)   The vast majority of Americans support foreign assistance.

Broad-consensus 2

Would you agree that the US has “a moral responsibility to work to reduce hunger and severe poverty in poor countries”? If so, then you agree with eighty-one percent of the US public that hold this view. Surveys show that Americans also believe that it is in rich countries’ own interest to help poor countries develop.

3)   Americans greatly overestimate how much the US spends on foreign assistance. 

Based on Fiscal Year 2014 budget data.

According to surveys, Americans on average think the US spends as much as 30 percent of the federal bud­get on foreign aid – more than on Social Security or Medicare – which is much different than the 0.7 percent reality.

4)   Americans spend more on candy, lawn care, and soft drinks than the US government spends on poverty-reducing foreign assistance.

Aid Comparison FA101 v2

The US government spends about $80 per taxpayer on development aid. Compare that to what Americans spend: $101 per person on candy, the $126 per person on lawn care, and $204 per person on soft drinks.

Need we say more?

5) When you compare US foreign assistance to other industrialized nations, the US ranks low.

19th US ranking on aid and GDP
Graphic: http://onforb.es/1hzc016

Even though the US is the largest donor of official development assistance in absolute dollars, it spent about 0.19 percent of its gross national income on it in 2012. That puts the US in 19th place behind most industrialized nations. Britain, for example, contributed 0.56 percent of its gross national income in 2012 – more than twice the US percentage.

6) Development assistance is not just wasted by corrupt governments.

anti corruption

The US does not even directly provide most of its poverty-reducing aid to foreign governments, but through US-based government contractors and NGOs. The US government has checks in place to minimize the risk of fraud and abuse and if done right, foreign assistance can actually push local institutions (foreign government agencies, private sector firms, and local nonprofits) to do the right thing and increase accountability to both their citizens and US taxpayers.

7) Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans believe that local community groups should have a say in how aid programs are implemented.


Yet US foreign assistance is often slow, bureaucratic, politically-driven, and implemented from the top down. That’s why organizations like Oxfam advocate with decision makers in Washington DC. Oxfam works to not only protect poverty-focused foreign assistance, but to improve the way the US government delivers it.


Figures are taken from Oxfam’s newly-released third edition of the quick and easy guide, Foreign Aid 101, which dispels the common myths around foreign aid to developing countries and answers some fundamental questions as to why the US provides it and how it can be more effective.


Share what you know about US foreign assistance with your representative here.


Join us in Washington DC.

In collaboration with Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, Oxfam America invites you to attend a reception celebrating the launch of our newly-updated Foreign Aid 101 report on Wednesday, April 2nd from 5-7pm in the Rayburn House Office Building Foyer. Special guest include Dorothy Ngoma of Malawi’s Presidential Initiative for Safe Motherhood and Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer at USAID. RSVP to rfudala@oxfamamerica.org.

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  3. ssterns63@gmail.com'Sheldon Stewat

    0.7% of the US budget is a huge sum of money. How many 0’s come after the decimal point before a significant digit shows up for money spent on US veterans?

    Stop giving our money away!

    1. macropodmax@gmail.com'Max

      Well, you see, there’s a pie chart that shows 4.7% goes to veterans benefits and services. I do agree that much, much more can and should be done to support those who have fought for our country, but foreign development is not the place to take it from. Maybe national defense (17%) could be cut a bit…

  4. happysewers28@gmail.com'Brian T Paster

    The country gives away tax payers money to and what happends when you’re middle class is hungry and homeless in retirement.. Maybe should have left that money to bolster the ssi .


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