As the 109th Congress adjourns, its inability to pass appropriations bills ranks among the top failures that have rightly earned it the moniker the “do-nothing Congress.” Among the 9 of 11 mandatory spending bills that will not get final approval is foreign assistance, which includes funding for international family planning.
Funding for international family planning stands at $436 million. This is significantly below the amount passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee ($465 million), just slightly over what the House passed ($432 million), much better than President Bush’s extremely low request of $357 million, and a fraction of what we’re spending on related health issues. Congress passed a “continuing resolution” to maintain current funding through mid-February—perhaps to be extended for all of FY2007—unless the incoming new Congress can clean up the fiscal mess that has been left for them.
Adding to the list of unknowns is the Administration’s effort to restructure U.S. foreign assistance programs. In addition to questions surrounding the 2007 budget, it remains unclear whether foreign assistance will continue as we know it. Until greater clarity is given, U.S. agencies that disperse funding to overseas programs are in a virtual holding pattern.
Because the State Department and USAID have been consumed by questions surrounding restructuring, they are struggling to come up with both a FY 2008 budget request and a reworking of the FY 2007 operating year budget. Bureaucratic uncertainty and increased workload on staff have led to a de facto moratorium on new approval of reproductive health projects. In addition, little of the previously-approved funding is being disbursed to organizations and field programs. Combined with the lack of an enacted FY 2007 appropriations bill, these delays mean that overseas programs may not receive a new infusion of funds until April or May of next year.
We urge the new Congress to take a more proactive role in ensuring that international family planning funding goes where it’s supposed to—rather than get mired in a bureaucratic no man’s land, which is where it stands now.