Who’s afraid of Mr Trump?

Ben Parker

Senior Editor

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Kristy Siegfried

Migration Editor

Will billions of dollars in US aid be slashed or redirected under President Trump? For aid agency planners, only one thing about the Trump presidency is certain right now: uncertainty.

New financial figures obtained and analysed by IRIN show that a number of key US NGOs depend on the US and other governments for more than half their budgets. Several aid officials confirmed that those that rely heavily on US government funding are feeling particularly vulnerable right now.

At the top of the list is an international development NGO, PACT, which receives 98 percent of its income from government grants. At least 10 major US humanitarian and relief organisations receive more than 50 percent of their income from government (mainly the US, although a breakdown is not always made public).

Washington also pays nearly 40 percent of the annual budgets of the UN World Food Programme and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR.

Even though there is little on the record for his specific policies, Donald Trump’s protectionism and rhetoric on the campaign trail mean that few expect a rise in US aid spending and some fear a sharp brake.

Christopher Lockyear of Action Against Hunger (US) told IRIN his agency was, like others, reviewing possibilities: “we’re looking at all the options. One of the scenarios of course is that there will be an overall reduction and that’s the scenario that we’re most concerned about.”

Despite obvious cause for concern, several of the most vulnerable NGOs were trying to remain positive.

“The short answer is we don’t really know and I don’t see the reason to assume the worst,” said Bill O'Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy at the large US non-profit Catholic Relief Services.

O’Keefe and other NGO officials contacted by IRIN stressed their intention to have a positive and “educational” relationship with the incoming members of Congress about the benefits of the US foreign aid budget and the levels of domestic support it can enjoy.

In an emailed statement, Mercy Corps told IRIN that cross-party support for foreign aid was strong in Congress, and that it represents an area of US leadership that ought not to be abandoned: “We hope the new administration will take this opportunity to embrace foreign assistance programmes that have been proven to reduce conflict and make the world safer.”

Nevertheless, Lockyear admitted, “there’s a lot of speculation at the moment”.

Part of that speculation surrounds who the new administration will appoint to key positions that have a major influence on the direction of aid programmes. These include the top administrators at USAID and PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), as well as the senior director for development at the National Security Council.

“The Republican legacy on foreign assistance is quite strong in terms of PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, but how the Trump administration plans to take that up, nobody knows,” said O’Keefe.

A fair share?

The club of donors, OECD, ranks the US as the largest country in conventional foreign aid. The UN’s financial tracking service also ranks the US as the biggest donor of emergency aid. Relative to its wealth, however, the US falls well behind others, scoring far below (0.17 percent) the target of 0.7 percent of national income set by the UN.

According to a formula reached by the UN, based on relative national wealth, the US is obliged to contribute 22 percent of the UN secretariat’s budget. The US, like other richer countries, tops up these obligated dues (“assessed contributions”) with voluntary amounts to certain agencies.

In an exclusive analysis, based on data from thousands of tax filings released by the Internal Revenue Service, IRIN has identified a number of US non-profits that show significant exposure to governmental funding fluctuations.

The table shows ten large agencies active in humanitarian and emergency relief. They all have over $5 million in annual income and depend on government grants for more than half their revenues. Much of this government income is from USAID and the US State Department, but it may include foreign governments. One NGO told IRIN it also reports income from UN sources in that line (Part VIII line 1e, for the experts). The IRS public records do not show a breakdown. The data is taken from a huge release of non-profit tax filings made public by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this year. To account for any year-to-year fluctuations, only those NGOs with more than one year of tax filings in the IRS data are included. The data is self-reported by the non-profits. IRIN has calculated the average income from government sources of the available years, and compared that with total reported revenue to find the percentage figure.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this article and graph reported that the government grants income was exclusively from the US government. However the government grants figure may also include income from foreign governments as well as US governmental units. IRIN regrets the error and has checked all the data again to confirm its accuracy.

Feedback on the methodology is welcome - contact us on hello[at]irinnews.org

Additional data reporting by Emma Supple

(TOP PHOTO: USAID coffee-growing project in Guatemala. Meredith McCormack/USAID)

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