United States foreign aid

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United States foreign aid (sometimes referred to as US foreign assistance, or Function 150) is "aid given by the United States to other countries to support global peace, security, and development efforts, and provide humanitarian relief during times of crisis."[1] US foreign aid is financed from US taxpayers and other government revenue sources that Congress appropriates annually through the United States budget process. It does not include money from private charitable organizations based in the United States or remittances sent between family members. The Congressional Research Service divides it into five categories: bilateral development aid, economic assistance.[2] , humanitarian aid, multilateral economic contributions, and military aid.[3] Although the number of agencies and departments managing and implementing foreign assistance funds and programs can change over time, in recent years, "there are over 20 U.S. government agencies that manage foreign assistance programs."[4]

Foreign aid recipients include 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 in systematic fashion after World War II; there were numerous programs of which the largest were the Marshall Plan of 1948 and the Mutual Security Act of 1951–61.

Military aid is frequently provided to foreign countries of strategic defense significance, or experiencing civil war, and natural resource rich countries experience civil war more frequently than countries that do not have natural resources. Therefore, resource rich countries are significantly more likely to receive foreign aid.[5]

While foreign aid typically enjoys bipartisan support in Congress,[6] foreign aid is generally unpopular with the general public. A 2017 Rasmussen poll found 57.69% favor a cut in foreign aid compared to 6% who want increased aid.[7] However, most Americans overestimate foreign aid as a share of the total federal budget. In the past, less than 1% of the national budget went to foreign assistance.[8][9] As of fiscal year 2017, foreign aid provided through the U.S. State Department and USAID totaled $49.87.1 billion, or about 1.2% of total spending,[10][11] but still equivalent to about 7.5% of the deficit.


In fiscal year 2017 (October 1st, 2016 to September 30th, 2017), the U.S. government allocated the following amounts for aid:

Total economic and military assistance: $49.87 billion.

Total military assistance: $14.77 billion.

Total economic assistance: $35.10 billion, of which USAID Implemented: $20.55 billion.[10]

Top 25 Recipient Countries of U.S. Foreign Aid FY 2017, Reported in $US millions, Obligations[11]
Country Economic and Military Assistance FY 2017, $US millions Aid received per capita FY 2017, $US millions Economic Assistance FY 2017, $US millions Military Assistance FY2017, $US millions
Afghanistan 5,730.48 161.29 1,309.88 4,420.60
Iraq 3,711.99 96.98 734.53 2,977.46
Israel 3,191.07 383.45 16.07 3,175.00
Jordan 1,489.50 153.53 1,015.62 473.88
Egypt 1,475.61 15.13 173.33 1,302.28
Ethiopia 1,102.96 10.51 1,102.31 0.64
Kenya 1,060.40 21.34 1,026.19 34.21
South Sudan 924.10 73.48 913.37 10.73
Syria 890.96 48.77 890.96 0
Nigeria 851.88 4.46 848.38 3.50
Pakistan 836.78 4.25 555.78 281.00
Uganda 740.77 17.00 739.68 1.085
Tanzania 626.48 10.93 619.69 6.80
Yemen 595.15 21.07 594.90 0.25
Somalia 583.81 39.60 461.13 122.68
Mozambique 579.99 19.55 579.40 0.60
Colombia 517.63 10.55 405.62 112.02
South Africa 511.48 9.02 510.63 0.85
Ukraine 506.75 11.46 256.43 250.31
Lebanon 505.44 83.10 418.60 86.84
Congo (Kinshasa) 493.95 6.07 489.72 4.23



Earliest Instances[edit]

One of the earliest and least known instances of US foreign aid is also a good example of how aid has a long history of being used as a tool of foreign policy. On May 6th, 1812, despite continued hostilities over independence from British colonial rule, US Senator from Kentucky Henry Clay signed a bill appropriating $50,000 for disaster relief food aid to Venezuela after a massive earthquake devastated the capitol, Caracas, that was enacted on May 8th by the 12th Congress (Chap. LXXIX). Coincidentally, Venezuela was also fighting a war for independence from Spanish colonial rule, from 1810 to 1823. The food aid was accompanied by diplomat Alexander Scott, who stated that this aid was “strong proof of the friendship and interest which the United States…has in their welfare…and to explain the mutual advantages of commerce with the United States.” A case may be made that some motivation for this act of generosity was diplomatic (i.e.: transactional) in nature, insofar as that both nations were seeking diplomatic recognition as sovereign from colonizers, and that this gesture would elicit such a desired reciprocal response. Later, in 1927, the US Congress appropriated $41,000 for the creation and transportation of a statue in Henry Clay's likeness to be erected in Caracas, where by all accounts it remains to this day, memorializing Clay as a symbol of US generosity abroad.

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 was forgiven.[13]

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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;[18] 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. The U.S. government gave Greece $362 million in 1949, and U.S. aid to Greece generally remained over $100 million annually until 1998.[19]

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.[20] The Marshall Plan ended in December 1951 and its functions were transferred to the Mutual Security Administration.[21] 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).[22]

From 1945 to 1953 – U.S. provides grants and credits amounting to $5.9 billion to Asian countries, especially China/Taiwan ($1.051 billion), India ($255 million), Indonesia ($215 million), Japan ($2.44 billion), South Korea ($894 million), Pakistan ($98 million) and the Philippines ($803 million). In addition, another $282 million went to Israel and $196 million to the rest of the Middle East. The main category was economic aid, but some military aid was provided.[23] All this aid was separate from the Marshall Plan.[24]

U.S. Aid[edit]

Congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act on 4 September 1961, reorganizing U.S. foreign assistance programs and separating military and non-military aid. The Act 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 FY2012-FY2017, Reported in $US millions, Obligations[25]
Implementing Agency 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
U.S. Agency for International Development 18,292.09 17,315.93 17,822.82 19,412.06 19,358.09 20,548.50
Department of Defense 17,954.16 13,681.98 10,521.37 14,823.81 15,347.51 14,500.82
Department of State 6,079.27 5,522.48 6,829.06 7,508.35 5,836.87 7,664.03
Department of Health and Human Services 2,281.97 3,079.00 2,694.02 2,640.30 4,217.89 2,659.52
Department of the Treasury 2,834.18 2,673.16 2,734.66 2,647.78 2,286.03 1,846.36
Millennium Challenge Corporation 413.02 1,115.55 567.34 429.57 963.23 1,012.08
Department of Energy 691.14 969.25 653.19 590.62 535.09 432.48
Peace Corps 426.11 406.72 396.453 441.56 440.16 479.34
Department of Agriculture 369.28 334.82 248.86 211.57 382.06 290.26
Department of the Interior 225.00 216.95 292.26 233.56 280.88 240.84
Department of the Army 170.30 90.22 72.34 117.87 85.72 2.09
Trade and Development Agency 44.14 40.64 49.22 51.11 58.10 67.77
Department of the Air Force 85.98 16.28 3.62 181.00 8.59 7.00
Department of Labor 12.16 30.55 17.00 81.18 44.17 24.58
Department of the Navy 22.21 55.06 104.08 20.49 7.56 0
African Development Foundation 29.64 42.54 31.78 20.34 27.15 20.23
Inter-American Foundation 31.12 26.20 27.84 26.41 27.47 30.09
Environmental Protection Agency 50.62 21.92 20.44 16.79 17.96 21.48
Department of Justice 18.72 14.06 13.85 13.04 (4.81) 10.21
Department of Commerce 17.89 17.09 7.73 6.45 6.42 7.63
Department of Homeland Security 5.15 0.00 2.67 2.78 11.43 4.44
Department of Transportation 7.61 3.95 0.27 1.15 0.29 0.03
Federal Trade Commission 0.21 (0.003) 0 0 0 0

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.[26] 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.[26] 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,[27] who tend to prefer to provide foreign aid privately.

Public Opinion[edit]

Several Interviews with 1,012 adult Americans were conducted by telephone by Opinion Research Corporation in January 2011. Published by CNN, the response was that 18% felt that reducing aid to foreign countries was a good way to reduce the federal budget deficit, while 81% thought aid was more important than reducing deficit.[28] 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.[29] Some claim the U.S. is helping corrupt governments with the aid.

Worldwide opinion of the United States improves with contributions to developing countries.[30]

Public knowledge of aid polls have been done assessing the knowledge of the US Public in regards to how much they know about the government's foreign aid spending. A poll conducted by World Public Opinion in 2010 found that the average estimate for how much of the government's budget is spent on foreign aid was 25 percent.[31] The average amount proposed by the public was 10 percent of the federal government's budget be used on foreign aid.[31] In actuality, less than 1 percent of the US federal budget goes towards foreign aid.[31] Less than 19 percent of respondents thought that the percent of the budget that goes towards foreign aid was less than 5 percent.[31] Steven Kull, director of PIPA, relates this overestimation towards an increase in hearing about foreign aid efforts during the Obama administration, but estimates of foreign aid have always been high.[31]

A poll conducted in 2013 by Research Pew Center found that the majority of Americans wanted to either maintain or increase spending on all US government initiatives except foreign aid. This is attributed, by Alice C. Hu, to a gross misconception of how much of the federal budget is actually spent on foreign aid.[32]

Opinions change[edit]

A study by the Washington Post from 2017 shows that Americans are easily persuaded in regards to their opinions on U.S. foreign aid.[33] The percentage of people who were provided no argument regarding foreign aid and thought the United States spends too much on it was 67 percent.[33] The percentage of people who were provided a positive argument for foreign aid and thought the United States spent too much on it was 28 percent.[33] The percentage of people who were provided a negative argument against foreign aid and thought that the United States spends too much on it was 88 percent.[33] This shows that the U.S. public is receptive to changing their beliefs about U.S. foreign aid based on the information presented.

Because the U.S. public's attitude toward foreign aid is impacted by the positive or negative tone of messages on aid, Steven Kull, Director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, laid out steps to preserve or create a positive outlook on U.S. foreign aid.[34]

  1. Understand the attacks on foreign aid.
  2. Do not frame questions about public opinion in terms of priorities because people are likely to prioritize domestic issues.
  3. Emphasize that only 1 percent of the federal budget goes towards foreign aid, as the Clinton administration did in the 1990s.
  4. Americans feel that the United States does more than its fair share on the world stage, so differentiate between foreign aid and military spending.
  5. Note that other countries, as part of multilateral frameworks, are doing their part in contributing to foreign aid efforts.
  6. Address concerns about aid effectiveness, including sharing success stories in providing aid, articulating the role of international and local NGOs in implementing foreign aid, and mobilizing trusted public figures to address effectiveness.
  7. Point out that foreign aid is a safe way to improve U.S. relations with other nation-states, therefore promoting self-interest.[34]

Recipients of foreign aid[edit]

A study by Andy Baker, a political scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found that Americans are more likely to support foreign aid going to an African country than they are to support foreign aid going to an Eastern European country.[35] Respondents wanted to cut aid going to those of European descent by 40 percent more than of those of African descent. Baker attributes this to a paternalistic view Americans have of themselves over those of African descent.[35]

Spend amount and destination[edit]

Due to the size of the U.S. federal budget, the 0.7 percent put towards foreign aid comprises a significant proportion of all foreign aid flows including other donors.[32] Most U.S. foreign aid does not go to other governments due to skepticism about corruption in other countries. There is a fear among the American people that foreign aid is funneled and used to increase the personal wealth of corrupt government leaders of foreign countries. However, about 85 percent of foreign aid goes to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and U.S.-government contractors, meaning that most of foreign aid is not being given directly to foreign governments.[32]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "ForeignAssistance.gov". ForeignAssistance.gov.
  2. ^ Max Bearak, Lazaro Gamio (18 October 2016). "The U.S. foreign aid budget, visualized". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  3. ^ Congressional Research Service. Foreign Aid: An Introductory Overview of U.S. Programs and Policy (2005) 38 pp online
  4. ^ "Agencies | ForeignAssistance.gov". www.foreignassistance.gov. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  5. ^ Ross, Michael L. (2004). "How Do Natural Resources Influence Civil War? Evidence from Thirteen Cases". International Organization. 58 (1): 35–67. doi:10.1017/s002081830458102x. JSTOR 3877888.
  6. ^ Liz Schrayer (3 September 2016). "The Surprise Bipartisan Success Story of Congress: American Aid". Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  7. ^ "Most See U.S. Foreign Aid As A Bad Deal for America". Rasmussen. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  8. ^ George M. Guess, The Politics of United States Foreign Aid (2013)
  9. ^ "Rethinking US Development Policy Foreign Assistance and the US Budget". 19 March 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  12. ^ Sharp, Jeremy M. (10 April 2018). "U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel [April 10, 2018]". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ 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).
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ United States government (ourdocuments.gov), Lend-Lease Act (1941), essay about the Act, and transcript of the Act. Retrieved September 2009.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ United Nations, Assisting the victims of war ..., 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.
  19. ^ 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", 3 April 1972; retrieved September 2009.
  20. ^ This and the information about U.S. goods and ships is from u-s-history.com "Marshall Plan", retrieved September 2009.
  21. ^ Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk, "Marshall Plan" Archived 9 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved September 2009.
  22. ^ Other sources on the Marshall Plan used here include infoplease.com "Marshall Plan", and The Marshall Foundation, "The Marshall Plan".
  23. ^ All data from the official document: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1954 (1955) table 1075 pp 899–902 online edition file 1954-08.pdf
  24. ^ Harry Bayard Price, The Marshall Plan and its Meaning (Cornell UP, 1955), pp 179–219.
  25. ^ "Foreign Aid Explorer website". Foreign Aid Explorer. USAID. 27 March 2019. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  26. ^ a b [1], Bristol 2010.
  27. ^ Peter Hays Gries, The Politics of American Foreign Policy: How Ideology Divides Liberals and Conservatives over Foreign Affairs (Stanford, 2014), pp. 108–112.
  28. ^ "Cnn Research Poll" (PDF). CNN. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ a b c d e WPO Admin (29 November 2010). "American Public Vastly Overestimates Amount of U.S. Foreign Aid". World Public Opinion.
  32. ^ a b c Hu, Alice C. (11 March 2015). "Foreign Aid and the 28 Percent Myth". Harvard International Review.
  33. ^ a b c d Hurst, Hawkins, Tidwell, Reuben, Darren, Taylor (4 May 2017). "Americans love to hate foreign aid, but the right argument makes them like it a lot more". The Washington Post.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  34. ^ a b Kull, Steven. “Preserving American Public Support for Foreign Aid.” Brookings Blum Roundtable Policy Briefs, pp. 53–60.
  35. ^ a b Baker, Andy. 2015. “Race, Paternalism, and Foreign Aid: Evidence from U.S. Public Opinion.” American Political Science Review 109 (1): 93–109.

External links[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.
  • 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 19 April 2010.