USA (MNN) – Three days in, a deadlocked U.S. Congress made little progress in settling the budgetary differences that led to the first shutdown in 17 years.
Fingers are pointing, but few compromises have tweaked the logjam. The risk is the longer the delay, the sooner it will be felt by the poor. That’s already true domestically, but it could also be true of foreign aid programs and their recipients.
Baptist Global Response’s Executive Director, Jeff Palmer says right now though, “Things are going on, critical programs that have already been budgeted for and they’re going to continue.” That’s based on assurances from U.S. officials that most U.S.-assisted development programming would not be affected by the shutdown.
However, ramifications for USAID, the government’s main foreign aid arm could have an effect further down the line. Palmer explains that foreign assistance remains vulnerable even if the shutdown ends quickly. “International aid is a very small percentage of what the U-S does in terms of its budget-a very small thing–one percent or less, but it does have a high profile. People think ‘if we can’t pay our bills at home, why do we help overseas?'” During the shutdown, new programs will be unable to begin, new personnel will not be hired, and even unplanned travel by U.S. officials will be barred.
The reality: while the shutdown doesn’t directly impact Baptist Global Response, if foreign aid from the U.S. takes a hit, there will be a gaping hole in the aid chain. That will eventually affect the ability to feed and shelter refugees. That issue isn’t going away either, he adds. “There are more refugees in the world today, displaced people than there’s ever been. There are more hungry people, even though we’re seeing some good trends in hunger and poverty alleviation over the last decade. If volume, especially from the U.S. government dries up, in terms of ability to help, it’s going to be tough on everybody.”
Take Syria, for example. “The camps are funded by government, the U.N. and other things
that are out there.” A gap in funding means life or death for the refugees. Palmer realizes that BGR may need to stand in the gap, if the government shutdown drags on. However, “Most of us that are working in the NGO, international NGO community, we’re already finding the gaps in the places to help outside of those areas.”
Their partners on the ground are reach out to the families that are falling through the cracks in the bigger system. That’s not to say it’s any safer in the more remote areas, he adds. “I just am amazed at the commitment and dedication of our on-ground partners living through snipers, car bombs, checkpoints and persecution and hassles from all kinds of groups, and yet, every day, going out there to deliver hope in the form of a food packet, a hygiene packet, or a word of hope from the Gospel.”
It IS what they do. They have found an interesting paradox in the crises where they’re spread the thinnest. “In those areas of huge needs are areas of opportunity, too, even to minister with a small amount of food, and even to minister in a way that will give us a chance to not just share physical hope, but also spiritual hope through the message of truth that’s in the Gospel.”
That’s why they persevere. Palmer says he’s constantly encouraging the beleaguered staffers with this thought: “Whatever government shutdown comes, or whatever things that happen in the world, we know that God is still on His throne, we know that Jesus is Lord. We look to him for the resources.”
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