United States foreign aid

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United States foreign aid is aid given by the United States government to other governments. It can be divided into two broad categories: military aid and economic assistance. Other large sums are given to non-government agencies and individuals in other countries through American foundations, churches and other organizations. Millions of individuals in the United States remit sums to their own relatives abroad, but that is not counted as "foreign aid". Foreign aid has been given to a variety of recipients, including developing countries, countries of strategic importance to the United States, and countries recovering from war. The government channels about half of its economic assistance through a specialized agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Government-sponsored foreign aid began a systematic fashion after World War II, with the Marshall Plan of 1948 and the Mutual Security Act of 1951-61. It has been politically highly charged, as most Americans believe the amount of aid given is much higher than the amount stated by the government.[1] In the 21st century, the US government operates five major categories of foreign assistance: bilateral development aid (the largest amount), economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, humanitarian aid, multilateral economic contributions, and military aid.[2]

In fiscal year 2014-15, less than 1% of the national budget goes to foreign assistance.[3]


In fiscal year 2014, the U.S. government allocated the following amounts for aid:

Total economic and military assistance: $43.10 billion

Total military assistance: $10.57 billion
Total economic assistance: $32.53 billion
of which USAID Implemented: $17.82 billion[4]

Usage of money for support[edit]

Aid from private sources within the United States in 2007 was probably somewhere in the $10 to $30 billion range. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that net private grants from the United States to developing countries totaled $12.2 billion that year.[5] A private think-tank, the Hudson Institute, gave the following figures for U.S. private assistance for 2004.

Category Amount[6]
Total U.S. Private Assistance $71.2 billion
Foundations $3.4 billion
Private and Voluntary Organizations (e.g., NGOs) $9.7 billion
Universities and Colleges $1.7 billion
Religious Organizations $4.5 billion
Corporations $4.9 billion
Individual remittances to family members $47 billion

Whether aid figures should include remittances by immigrant workers in the United States to their families outside the country is disputed. Some writers include remittances as aid, others do not. Though the Hudson Institute includes them in the above table, Daniel Drezner argues that remittances from the United States should not be counted as U.S. aid because, as he says, "Americans aren't remitting this money -- foreign nationals are."[7] Nils Katsberg of UNICEF notes that remittances undoubtedly are a financial benefit to the families back home, but one must also factor in the negative effect, especially on the children, of the absence of the family member—likely a parent—who is working abroad.[8]


Top 25 Recipient Countries of U.S. Foreign Aid FY 2013 Reported in $US millions, Obligations [9]
Country Economic and Military Assistance FY 2013, $US millions Aid received per person recipient FY2013, $US Economic Assistance FY 2013, $US millions Military Assistance FY2013, $US millions
Afghanistan 4533.51 148 2653.93 1879.58
Israel 2961.04 367 17.81 2943.23
Egypt 1566.24 19 330.6 1235.6
Jordan 1211.83 188 879.64 332.19
West Bank/Gaza 1007.73 370
Ethiopia 686.53 7 685.19 1.34
South Sudan 618.74 55 598.79 19.96
Malawi 571.18 35 570.91 0.27
Uganda 541.93 14 538.3 3.62
South Africa 526.19 10 523.86 2.32
Nigeria 518.84 3 509.41 9.43
Russia 465.16 3 445.07 20.08
Iraq 444.81 13 382.7 62.11
Tanzania 430.66 9 427.82 2.84
Mexico 419.94 3 348.72 71.21
Congo (Kinshasa) 379.24 6 366.73 12.52
Haiti 378.77 37 377.04 1.73
Lebanon 376.41 84 286.03 90.38
Somalia 367.18 35 188 179.18
Zambia 310.8 22 310.26 0.54
Sudan (former)* 290.05 8 290.05


  • Sudan (former) refers to the geographic area of Sudan, based on the area that was Sudan before the creation of South Sudan
  • Except special considerations to countries such as Israel and Egypt, the direction of US foreign aid flow reflects the government efforts in’ alleviating poverty, promoting democracy and encouraging economic openness of the recipient countries. 


World War I[edit]

During World War One, the Committee for Relief in Belgium (CRB), which sent food to the hungry in that war-torn country, received $387 million from the U.S. government (as well as $314 million from the British and French governments and about $200 million from non-governmental sources). These government monies were given in the form of loans, but a considerable portion of those loans were forgiven.[10]

After the war, the American Relief Administration, directed by Herbert Hoover who had also been prominent in the CRB, continued food distribution to war-devastated European countries. It also distributed food and combated typhus in Russia during 1921-23. The U.S. Congress appropriated $20 million for the ARA under the Russian Famine Relief Act of 1921.

World War II[edit]

Levels of United States aid increased greatly during World War Two, mainly on account of the Lend-lease program. United States government aid remained high in the decade after the war because of contributions to European reconstruction, and competition for influence versus the Communist powers in the first years of the Cold War. By 1960, the annual aid amount had receded to about half of what it was in the early post-war years, and, in inflation-adjusted terms, it has remained at that level—with some fluctuations—until the present.[11]

The Lend-lease program, which began in 1941 (before the U.S. entrance in the war) was an arrangement whereby the United States sent large amounts of war materials and other supplies to nations whose defense was considered vital to the defense of the United States. It began with the passage by Congress of the Lend-lease act (PL 77-11) on 11 March 1941.[12] Initially, the main recipient was Great Britain; the Soviet Union began receiving supplies (paid for in gold) in June 1941 outside of Lend-lease, and was included in the Lend-lease agreement in November 1941. By the end of the war, most of the Allied countries had been declared eligible for Lend-lease aid, although not all received it. By the time the program was ended by President Truman in August 1945, more than $50 billion worth of supplies had been disbursed, of which the Commonwealth countries received $31 billion and the Soviet Union $11 billion. Although formally the material was loaned, in the end only partial repayment was demanded.

A second wartime aid program, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), was founded in November 1943, by 44 Allied governments, for the purpose of assisting and resettling displaced victims of the war.[13] Its initial focus was on assisting people in areas the Allies had captured from the Axis powers: distributing food, clothing and other essentials, and helping with medical care and sanitation. Later it also assisted in the resumption of agriculture and industry. Each of the 44 signatories was supposed to contribute one percent of its national income.[14] The chief beneficiaries were China, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy, Poland, the Ukrainian SSR and Yugoslavia. UNRRA returned about 7 million displaced people to their countries of origin and provided refugee camps for about one million who were unwilling to be repatriated. UNRRA ceased operations in Europe in mid-1947;[15] some of its activities in Asia continued under other auspices until early 1949. In the end 52 countries had contributed as donors. Contributions from governments and private organizations during the four years of the program totaled over $3.8 billion; more than half of that was from the United States.

Cold War[edit]

After the war, the United States began giving large amounts of aid to Greece and Turkey under the Truman doctrine. Both countries were experiencing civil strife between communist and anti-communist factions, and the President and his advisors feared that their efforts to keep European countries from adopting communism might be about to suffer a serious setback. In December 1946, the Prime Minister of Greece visited Washington and requested additional United States aid. Truman promulgated his containment doctrine in early 1947, a major component of which was to be aid to the world's poor countries in order to blunt the appeals of radicalism to their hungry peoples and to bolster their anti-communist political elements. In May 1947 the U.S. government granted Greece $300 million in military and economic aid. Turkey received $100 million and the battleship Missouri and the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt were deployed there. The U.S. government gave Greece $362 million in 1949, and U.S. aid to Greece generally remained over $100 million annually until 1998.[16] The aid was at times controversial, since it supported authoritarian governments in Greece from the 1940s to early 1960s, as well as the 1967–1974 military junta. Aid to Turkey was $117 million in 1949, $259 million in 1952, and remained in the hundreds of millions annually until 1998.[17]

The most well-known, and largest, United States aid program in the immediate post-war years was the European Recovery Program (ERP). More often known as the Marshall Plan, it was the creation of George Kennan, William Clayton, and others at the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State George Marshall. Publicly suggested by Marshall in June 1947, and put into action about a year later, the Plan was essentially an extension of the Greece–Turkey aid strategy to the rest of Europe. The U.S. administration considered the stability of the existing governments in Western Europe vital to its own interests. On 3 April 1948, President Truman signed the Economic Cooperation Act, establishing the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) to administer the program, and actual disbursements got underway. The focus was on promoting production, stabilizing currencies, and promoting international trade. To be eligible for the aid, a country had to sign an agreement with the United States government committing itself to the Act's purposes. The Communist countries were formally invited to participate in the Plan although Secretary Marshall thought it unlikely that they would accept and they did in fact decline the aid. Also in 1948, the United States and the recipient countries created the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC – it became the OECD in 1961) to coordinate the use of the aid. A large portion of the money given was used to purchase goods from the United States, and the ships used to transport the goods had to be of U.S. nationality. Until after the Korean War, military aid was not part of the plan.[18] The Marshall Plan ended in December 1951 and its functions were transferred to the Mutual Security Administration.[19] The United States government gave out about $12.5 billion under the Plan during its three-and-a-half year existence. The countries receiving the most were Great Britain ($3.3 billion), France ($2.3 billion) and West Germany ($1.4 billion).[20]

Under title IV of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948, South Korea and the Guomindang regime in China were given aid in a similar manner to the Marshall Plan. Japan was also given aid.


Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act on September 4, 1961, reorganizing U.S. foreign assistance programs and separating military and non-military aid. The Act mandated the creation of an agency to administer economic assistance programs, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which was established by President Kennedy two months later. USAID became the first U.S. foreign assistance organization whose primary focus was long-term economic and social development.


U.S. Foreign Aid by Implementing Agency FY2009-FY2013, Reported in $US millions, Obligations [21]
Implementing Agency 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
African Development Foundation 35.32 30.86 33.91 29.64 27.84 31.78
Department of Agriculture 244.23 545.52 329.56 369.45 334.82 248.86
Department of Commerce 9.26 9.87 6.23 15.65 18.33 9.11
Department of Defense 14,527.79 15,274.05 18,821.63 17,666.48 8,250.63 10552.90
Department of Energy 749.51 1,036.85 1,426.41 691.14 972.90 670.21
Department of Health and Human Services 2,713.37 2,717.16 2,258.21 2,281.97 3,079.29 2695.37
Department of Homeland Security 8.04 6.08 4.09 5.15 0.00 2.67
Department of Justice 43.60 36.46 20.86 18.72 14.06 13.85
Department of Labor 53.78 73.47 52.75 12.16 30.55 17.00
Department of State 6,674.46 6,477.13 6,023.83 6,089.06 5,390.79 6824.22
Department of the Air Force 4.90 6.43 18.51 0.00 0.06 3.62
Department of the Army 935.81 774.72 420.50 137.53 37.02 15.18
Department of the Interior 1,087.52 225.67 328.07 225.00 216.95 292.18
Department of the Navy 26.57 0.26 17.84 6.81 4.67
Department of the Treasury 1,637.74 2,245.32 2,033.89 2,834.18 2,673.16 2838.22
Department of Transportation 2.17 3.84 2.87 7.61 3.95 .27
Environmental Protection Agency 24.67 40.59 22.19 50.62 21.92 20.44
Federal Trade Commission 0.61 0.73 0.33 0.21 0.00
Inter-American Foundation 24.96 25.84 22.96 25.44 26.20 27.79
Millennium Challenge Corporation 1,016.78 873.67 581.00 413.02 1,115.55 567.34
Open World Leadership Center 15.50 12.82 0.00 0.00 0.00
Peace Corps 350.67 389.61 419.09 401.34 386.75 405.60
Trade and Development Agency 42.78 49.88 41.17 44.14 40.64 44.34
U.S. Agency for International Development 16,191.31 17,344.78 15,644.51 18,232.36 17,461.78 17822.82

President Obama announced to the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in September 2010 that the United States was changing its policy towards foreign aid. The President said the country would focus more on effectiveness, and make sure donated food, medicine, and money help countries get to the point where they no longer require such aid. Infrastructure set up for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief would be used to build capacity in local health care systems to improve maternal and child health, and also fight tropical diseases. The new policy would increase the profile and participation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which would coordinate more directly with the National Security Council and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.[22] Some observers criticized the link with national security and foreign policy as unhelpful for the impoverished, and others lamented the attempted streamlining as only adding more bureaucracy.[22] Foreign aid is a highly partisan issue in the United States, with liberals, on average, supporting government-funded foreign aid much more than conservatives do,[23] who tend to prefer to provide foreign aid privately.

Public Opinion[edit]

Interviews with 1,012 adult Americans were conducted by telephone by Opinion Research Corporation in January 2011: Published by CNN, the response was that 81% felt that reducing aid to foreign countries was a good way to reduce the federal budget deficit, while 18% thought aid was more important than reducing deficit.[24] Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, has predicted that public opinion will not change even while the hardships suffered by poor people are rising, partly as a result of the Global Financial Crisis.[25] This is even though worldwide opinion of the United States improves with contributions to developing countries, although some claim the U.S. is helping corrupt governments with the aid.[26]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

USG sources of data on United States aid are:

Non-USG sources of data on United States aid are:

  • Publications of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD offers large amounts of data on line. Complete access is by subscription, but useful amounts are made available free. The DAC does not include private aid in its main category, "Official Development Assistance (ODA)", but reports some of it under other headings.
  • AidData provides free access to a searchable database of foreign aid activities by donor, recipient, sector, and other criteria. Using the AidData database, it is possible to search for U.S. foreign aid activities financed between 1973 and 2008, and download them as a CSV file.


  1. ^ George M. Guess, The Politics of United States Foreign Aid (2013)
  2. ^ Congressional Research Service. Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy (2005) 38 pp online
  3. ^ "Rethinking US Development Policy Foreign Assistance and the US Budget". March 19, 2016. Retrieved March 19, 2016.  line feed character in |title= at position 33 (help)
  4. ^ "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. July 27, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  5. ^ OECD, Development Assistance Committee, "Official and Private Flows", available free online from OECD Stat Extracts. [1] Select "United States" from the drop-down list at the top of the intreractive table. Accessed September 2009.
  6. ^ Cited in Anup Shah, "US and Foreign Aid Assistance", Side Note on Private Contributions (globalissues.org, accessed September 2009). The original from the Hudson Institute is "The Index of Global Philanthropy", table about 1/6 of the way through; accessed September 2009. Shah's article is better for context.
  7. ^ Daniel Drezner, "Inside the numbers on U.S. Foreign Aid", accessed September 2009.
  8. ^ "Remittances provide a financial boost to families that enables them to reach a standard of living adequate to the development of their children, which would perhaps not be possible otherwise." However: "If one or both parents emigrate, household and child-rearing responsibilities fall to older adults, second or third degree relatives, or even brothers or sisters. In any of these scenarios there is a real or potential risk that the children will not receive the same health and nutritional care, and protection against abuse and exploitation, that they would have received from their parents," Kastberg said. Furthermore, the absence of their parents implies "the loss of their most important role models, nurturers and caregivers, and this has a significant psychosocial impact that can translate into feelings of abandonment, vulnerability, and loss of self-esteem, among others." ' -- Raúl Pierri, IPS news, "Migration - Latin America: Remittances do not Fill Gap for Children Left Behind", accessed September 2009.
  9. ^ "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. July 27, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  10. ^ Annotated CRB documents, retrieved September 2009. The U.S. aid commenced after April 1917; Britain had been contributing since 1914. The amounts contributed by the governments are from the table near the beginning of the web page. 200 million is calculated as 22 percent (100 - 78 percent) of the 900 million distributed by the committee (mentioned in the discussion preceding the table).
  11. ^ This paragraph refers to inflation-adjusted ("constant-dollar") levels. Generally, the other data in this section is in historical dollars. USAID, Greenbook, interactive version, "Program Reports"; then selecting "Custom Report" allows you to get data going back to 1946. Retrieved September 2009.
  12. ^ United States government (ourdocuments.gov), Lend-Lease Act (1941), essay about the Act, and transcript of the Act. Retrieved September 2009.
  13. ^ Although the UNRRA was called a "United Nations" agency, it was established prior to the founding of the United Nations. The explanation for this is that the term 'United Nations' was used at the time to refer to the Allies of World War II, having been originally coined for that purpose by Roosevelt in 1942.
  14. ^ Assisting the victims of war: 'nations will learn to work together only by actually working together.' (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). U.N. Publications, 1994.
  15. ^ United Nations, Assisting the victims of war &helip;, op cit., says the UNRRA decided on 16 August 1947 to liquidate itself, "a process completed in 1948;" Infoplease (Columbia Encyclopedia), "United Nations Relief and Rehabilitatin Administration", says UNRRA discontinued its operations in Europe on 30 June 1947.
  16. ^ These amounts are in historical (not inflation-adjusted) dollars. USAID, Greenbook Historical query, select Country Reports >> Greece, Custom Report >> the data you want, and the year (Ctrl+A selects all years). Retrieved September 2009. Also, Time Magazine, "Greece: The Poly-Papadopoulos", 03 April 1972; retrieved September 2009.
  17. ^ Historical dollars: USAID, Greenbook, assistance to Turkey, 1946 - 2007. Retrieved September 2009.
  18. ^ This and the information about U.S. goods and ships is from u-s-history.com "Marshall Plan", retrieved September 2009.
  19. ^ Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk, "Marshall Plan", retrieved September 2009.
  20. ^ Other sources on the Marshall Plan used here include infoplease.com "Marshall Plan", and The Marshall Foundation, "The Marshall Plan".
  21. ^ "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. July 27, 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b [2], Bristol 2010.
  23. ^ Peter Hays Gries, The Politics of American Foreign Policy: How Ideology Divides Liberals and Conservatives over Foreign Affairs (Stanford, 2014), pp. 108-112.
  24. ^ "Cnn Research Poll" (PDF). CNN. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  25. ^ Pogge, Thomas (2014). "Are We Violating the Human Rights of the World’s Poor?" (PDF). Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal. 17 (1): 31. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 
  26. ^ Goldsmith, Benjamin E.; Horiuchi, Yusaku; Wood, Terence. "Doing well by doing good: foreign aid improves opinions of the U.S.". Washington Post. Retrieved 4 June 2015. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Congressional Research Service. Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy (2011) 37 pp online
  • Guess, George M. The Politics of United States Foreign Aid (2013)
  • Lancaster, Carol. Foreign aid: Diplomacy, development, domestic politics (University of Chicago Press, 2008)
  • Morgner, Aurelius. "The American Foreign Aid Program: Costs, Accomplishments, Alternatives?," Review of Politics (1967) 29#1 pp. 65–75 in JSTOR

Bristol, Nellie. 2010. "US Foreign Aid Restructuring: is it "a very big deal?" From World Report. Accessed 4/19/2010.