US aid to needy lands may avoid Congress budget ax
US emergency aid for disaster-struck regions of the world may get a new lease on life. Aid planning for countries like Cambodia and Nicaragua has been stymied in recent weeks by congressional belt-tightening. A budget ceiling continues to block passage of the 1980 foreign aid bill and its new provisions for aid to meet recent disasters.
But some aid analysts now say they believe all that could change this week.
* Congressional budget committees were to "mark up" a new budget resolution for 1980 spending today (March 19). Depending upon the committees' moods, they could allow some increases in aid spending.
* The Carter administration is determined to weave through the maze of federal budget- cutting efforts to keep funds available for aid to Cambodia, and if possible, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and the refugees of Somaila, Rhodesia, the Sudan, Pakistan, and Uganda. The decision reflects the priority still attached to these regions despite the President's own budget-cutting drive.
Sources privy to the White House say that the President's drive to cut the 1981 budget does not diminish his support for the relatively modest aid increases embodied in the stalled 1980 foreign aid bill.
The White House wants congressional budget committees to raise the 1980 budget ceiling enough to let that bill go through. The bill includes, among other things, a supplemental Food for Peace appropriation of $196 million, some of which will soon be needed for refugee relief, according to State Department officials.
Meanwhile, the coming weeks will be decisive for reconstruction in countries like starvation-racked Cambodia, war-torn Nicaragua, and hurricane-stricken Dominican Republic.
Without a successful crop planting before June, Cambodia could be indefinitely dependent on world aid, while success could mean near self-sufficiency in food production by next year.
Regarding Nicaragua, the Carter administration is concerned that without quick American aid, that country could be forced to turn to communist countries for help or to develop repressive, unstable institutions. (A $75 million aid package remains stalled with the 1980 foreign aid bill.)
Thousands in the Dominican Republic continue to live in make-shift shelters, awaiting help from countries like the US.
Recognizing the urgency of these aid efforts, State Department officials say they are committed to keeping the aid pipeline open. They will not wait for final action of new budget resolutions (which may not come until April) before moving ahead.
New US contributions are being planned for the new United Nations' $262 million relief drive to support Cambodia's agricultural reconstruction in the coming weeks. (The US already has given about $78 million in Cambodian relief).
Also, State Department officials concerned with Latin American aid hope to find at least some money for Nicaragua, although they expect that the humanitarian and political reasons for supporting Nicaragua will convince Congress to fund the $75 million aid package of the foreign aid bill.
However, such budgeting is up against formidable obstacles. Senate Budget Committee chairman Edmund S. Muskie (D) of Maine opposes a new budget resolution , although he is known to generally support foreign aid programs. Also it is not a foregone conclusion that the budget committees will build significant aid increases into the new resolution. If such increases are not forthcoming, the administration's commitment to the most urgent world disaster spots will require cuts from other vital aid programs, like the language training of refugees to be resettled in the US.