WASHINGTON – Leaders of some Maryland-based relief and development organizations told the state’s congressional delegation Tuesday they are concerned that federal funds for long-standing troubled areas might be cut to focus on tsunami-hit regions.
“I hope the U.S. government won’t divert funds at the expense of other critical needs,” said Kathryn Wolford, president of Lutheran World Relief, which is based in Baltimore.
Those needs include long-term funding for development for a variety of programs in areas outside the tsunami-stricken region, she said.
Wolford also said that long-term development, both in and outside those affected areas, should not be displaced by emergency relief. Such long-term commitments should include paying attention to historic conflicts in Sri Lanka involving the Tamil Tigers and secessionist struggles in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh, she said.
Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, echoed the concern about diverted federal government funds. He noted that funds budgeted by the State Department for the Food for Peace Office were delayed before the tsunami hit, and that President Bush proposed cuts to that office’s programs in the fiscal 2006 budget released Monday.
“We already feel a shifting away of developmental food-aid programs” and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, and toward tsunami relief, he said.
Hackett and Wolford represented two of eight organizations invited to update the delegation on relief efforts that have been provided by some of the 306 international relief and development agencies that are headquartered in Maryland, according to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
Sarbanes said he is proud that the state is home to so many agencies, and much of the early part of the two-hour meeting was taken up by the state’s representatives and senators thanking the non-governmental organizations for their efforts.
But in response to Hackett’s comments, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said he gets angry when the federal government says there are “budget constraints” on aid for people living in hunger and poverty.
Hoyer said that Japan and European countries have budgeted a larger percentage of their per capita income for foreign assistance than the United States, and that the most powerful nation in the world should not be acting this way. Such behavior does not reflect American values, said Hoyer, who noted that half of all Americans were said to have contributed to tsunami relief.
The most effective way to help is to build a partnership between the government and non-governmental organizations, like those at the meeting, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
Most members of the delegation who were present agreed. Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, Dutch Ruppersberger of Cockeysville and Albert Wynn of Mitchellville were not at Tuesday’s meeting.
Although the delegation members did not promise anything to the representatives of the aid groups, Hackett said he appreciated Hoyer’s comments, and added that merely convening the meeting showed the delegation’s support.
-30- CNS 02-08-05