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Law and Politics

How Effective is Foreign Aid?

Should the U.S. increase or decrease the money spent on foreign aid?

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  • Foreign aid is any assistance that one nation provides to another. [Merriam-Webster

  • Some examples include sending financial aid, military support, or medical supplies.

  • Foreign aid is given for both moral reasons and for the benefit of the United States.



CIVICS: Foreign aid is one of the key factors driving international diplomacy and often enjoys bipartisan support. How much is spent on foreign aid can come under debate when planning the federal budget, and can be subject to presidential policy goals. [NPR

SOCIAL: While there is a debate about whether or not foreign aid works for development in other nations, there is concrete evidence that foreign aid has provided positive outcomes for health issues and emergency relief. [NPR


Those that support a healthy foreign aid budget often say:


Civic morality

Foreign aid is key to humanitarian efforts as the money is used to help people out of poverty, eradicate diseases, and improve education and living conditions across the world. 



Long term results

Some benefits to foreign aid are not immediately seen.


Aid can help kickstart infrastructure and economic growth, creating independence for that nation and its citizens. with the hope that they will buy more U.S. products. [Brookings Institute



Good for home

Providing aid could be beneficial to the U.S., as the country as a whole gains access to resources and allies across the world. For example,

  • after WWII, the U.S. provided foreign aid to previous enemies Germany and Japan to help rebuild their economy.
  • Germany and Japan are now amongst the U.S.'s top allies. 

The aid can also help maintain relative peace among nations that might otherwise go to war for aid. [The Washington Post


Those that are against budgeting for foreign aid budget often say:


Start at home first

Some believe that foreign aid neglects domestic issues, as the money spent in other countries could be used to improve the United States and its people. 


In 2016, President Trump ran a successful presidential campaign on this "America First" promise and has expanded that ideal to foreign relations, including aid. 

  • In 2018, President Trump told world leaders at the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly, "Moving forward, we are only going to give foreign aid to those who respect us and, frankly, are our friends." [NPR]

Modern-day takeover 

Those who argue against spending on foreign aid say it is another form of colonialism and could result in countries becoming dependent on the aid, favoritism among aid recipients, or be used as a tool to control other nations. [The Guardian



Money goes elsewhere

Although donating countries try to avoid aiding corrupt governments, receiving aid can create a complicated dynamic within a country and potentially do more harm than good. [The Washington Post


  • Mar. 2019: The Trump administration has banned foreign aid to organizations across the globe that provide or support abortion. [Associated Press]

  • The ban has resulted in health clinics closing that provides essential medical care, like HIV/AIDs treatments. [Associated Press]

  • June 2019: The Trump administration froze $450 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador for what he described as their failure to stem migration. [NPR] He later resumed aid, sending $143 million to the region. [Associated Press]

  • Feb. 2020: President Trump's 2021 federal budget proposal cut foreign aid by 21%. This is the third budget proposal by President Trump that has cut money for aid. [Reuters]

  • The administration is looking to use those funds for infrastructure and defense, including the building of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. [Reuters]

  • Nov. 2020: President-elect Joe Biden has promised to "bring aid back to the center of our foreign policy." [NPR


  • Agencies across the U.S. Government have requested $32.7 billion in funding for foreign assistance activities for the 2021 financial year. [

  • If you were in charge of distributing foreign aid to other nations, what would you prioritize? What would you cut?

  • Learn more about the federal budget and how the process works here.

  • Countries that spend more on foreign aid are also shown to spend more on domestic issues. How does this affect the argument that foreign assistance should be used in the donating country instead? Read more from Brookings Institute.

  • When analyzing how much the U.S. spends on foreign aid compared to other countries, it is easy to think that the U.S. is the top spender. But when looking at the total money spent versus total as a percentage of the country's gross national income, the U.S. is not in the top 10. Confused? Learn more from the World Economic Forum.

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