Trump Says Countries That Receive Foreign Aid Do 'Nothing for Us' — We Crunched the Numbers
We fact-checked some of the president’s recent statements about foreign aid.
President Donald Trump addressed several issues on Wednesday during the first Cabinet meeting of 2019, including the current government shutdown, foreign aid, and funding for the border wall he has long championed.
The federal government has now been partially shut down for two weeks, after Congressional leaders and White House officials failed to pass a new government spending bill before the Dec. 21 expiration date of the previous bill.
The main point of disagreement: the border wall along the US-Mexico border, a central promise of Trump’s campaign.
The president referenced several figures and suggested funding streams for the wall — conservatively estimated to cost $5.7 billion — during his remarks, but many of his claims about foreign aid were not accurate.
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Here’s a look at some of the facts and figures behind his Cabinet meeting statements:
The current budget for foreign aid is $54.4 billion “which is, by itself, a lot,” Trump said.
Relatively speaking, it’s not a lot. In fact, it’s about 0.26% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the most recent government data.
The president also said that Democrats “want $12 billion additional for foreign aid,” but the budgets proposed and approved were put forward by a Republican-led Congress, and passed with bipartisan support. Foreign aid has historically been a bipartisan issue and is seen by many as a means of strengthening US diplomacy, promoting democracy, supporting development, and securing peace.
The sum of $54.4 billion approved by Congress is approximately $15 billion more than the steep cut that President Trump allocated for foreign aid through the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in his budget. Trump had earmarked just $39.3 billion for critical assistance programs, including global health and humanitarian efforts.
The budget Congress approved in June covers foreign operations including humanitarian and economic assistance programs through the State Department and USAID, as well as military assistance programs.
“We’re giving away $54 billion in foreign aid. So we give money to countries, but we don’t give money to our own country, which is another thing that I’ve been complaining about,” Trump said.
In fact, the US spends trillions on itself and its citizens. This year, the US is predicted to spend about $4.4 trillion. Most of that is considered “mandatory spending,” which will be spent on programs that support Americans, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But about $1.3 trillion of that falls under “discretionary spending” budget, which Congress sets every year — more than half of this typically goes toward the military.
“Think of it: We give $54 billion — a lot of it because they [Democrats] want to give it. They don’t even know who they’re giving it to. In many cases, people don’t ... even know the name of the country,” Trump said.
Money isn’t just being given out to random countries. Much of US foreign aid goes toward helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
The vast majority of US foreign aid funding does not go directly to governments, but is distributed through agencies like USAID, a US-led international aid agency, and NGOs and organizations working in partnership with USAID and the State Department.
Foreign aid is consistent with American leadership — even prominent Republicans such as George W. Bush have championed programs like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has saved more than 17 million lives.
“It’s very unfair when we give money to Guatemala and to Honduras, and to El Salvador, and they do nothing for us,” Trump said.
Trade between the US, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador amounts to billions of dollars every year.
The US exported $5.1 billion worth of goods to Honduras in 2017 and imported $4.6 billion worth of goods, including clothing, electronics, bananas, coffee, and spices, in 2017. And trade activity with Guatemala totaled $12.4 billion in 2016, according to the most recently available government data.
The US actually benefits from trade with these countries, and all three Central American countries, which are dealing with high rates of poverty and violence, benefit from US foreign aid assistance.