The Trump administration has put a temporary hold on some congressionally approved foreign aid funds.
That’s pending a State Department review as well as by the U.S. Agency for International Development, as many news outlets have reported about the development.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed the two agencies in a recent letter that “unobligated funds” would be frozen until “three business days after” State and USAID provide an accounting of how much remains in specific accounts — and how, exactly, those funds are being spent. The funds expire on September 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“Trump’s order to freeze billions in aid dollars is only subjecting these allotments to review before being released.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was out of the country when OMB sent its letter. It was addressed to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Congress was and is still on its long August recess — lawmakers don’t return until September 9, well after Labor Day.
A USAID official told CNN the funding amounts to somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion, as Fox43 reported.
The accounts specified in the letter include funding for international organizations, international peacekeeping, international narcotics control and law enforcement, global health, development assistance, foreign military and assistance for Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia.
The Trump administration’s decision drew anger from some lawmakers, who felt it was overstepping.
“This administration’s contempt for Congress is astounding,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
“When Congress decides how much we can spend on foreign assistance, it isn’t a suggestion. It’s the law, backed up by the Constitution,” he also said in a statement.
And here’s what Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 Democratic candidate for the presidency, shared on her Twitter feed:
America’s defense budget is more bloated than ever, but our national security cannot rely on a strong military alone. So why in the world is @realDonaldTrump trying to block billions in the @StateDept’s diplomacy, development & global health funds? https://t.co/dDDteN8u47
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 7, 2019
InterAction, for example, a global alliance of nongovernmental aid organizations, denounced the action in a statement by its CEO Sam Worthington.
“It is both disappointing and saddening that President Trump constantly undermines the decisions that our elected representatives in Congress have made to support foreign assistance,” said Worthington, who added in the statement, “Data tells us that the small fraction of America’s budget that goes to foreign aid yields big results. The White House’s repeated political ploys to halt aid threaten the effectiveness of U.S. assistance and put America’s global leadership at risk.”
Yet many people should not be surprised: When American interests are not being served, President Donald Trump has cut back on foreign aid.
Also, for the record, the administration is not actually “cutting” aid, as some people suggest, which Siskind also noted. “That indeed is the decision of Congress.”
“Rather, Trump’s order to freeze billions in aid dollars is only subjecting these allotments to review before being released.”
OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel told reporters that federal agencies have a responsibility to spend congressionally approved funds appropriately.
“In an effort to ensure accountability, OMB has requested the current status of several foreign assistance accounts to identify the amount of funding that is unobligated,” Semmel said.
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