WASHINGTON – The U.S. government program that helps treat and prevent AIDS in foreign countries is threatened by budget cuts, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Tuesday. He urged faith-based organizations to increase their efforts at rallying support for the program.
"You're going to have to up your game because pressures exist today unlike any time in politics," Graham said at a Washington, D.C., event co-hosted by a number of organizations that have worked together to fight AIDS around the world, including World Relief, World Vision, Pan African Christian AIDS Network, UNICEF, and the United Methodist Church.
Politicians find foreign aid an easy target for budget cuts, Graham explained, because most Americans believe foreign aid comprises a significant part, as much as 25 percent, of the budget. In reality, though, foreign aid is only about one percent of the budget and not the cause of the nation's budget woes. For this reason, Graham believes it is important for faith groups to let their congressional representatives know they will stand behind them, or "provide a safety net," if they do not cut foreign aid programs to fight AIDS.
"In my state, the evangelical Christian community, the church community, the faith community is listened to," Graham said.
The primary federal program for AIDS relief is The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. It was first passed under President George W. Bush with bipartisan support and continues under President Barack Obama. Graham noted the importance of the bipartisan support the program has received.
"This is a great example of Republicans and Democrats doing something great for the country," Graham said.
Graham also argued that foreign aid benefits national security by building allies abroad and rooting out the suffering that terrorist organizations use as a recruiting tool. Foreign aid is more effective than soldiers at defeating terrorism, he explained.
Graham also believes that PEPFAR has used taxpayer dollars wisely; 67,000 people received treatment for AIDS in 2004, Graham said, and now over 5 million people are getting treatment through the program. "Obviously, the money is going to people and not the bureaucrats."
The PEPFAR program is also part of a global effort led by the United Nations to eradicate all transmissions of HIV from mother to child by 2015. Graham believes that goal is possible as long as funding for PEPFAR continues.
"This is a smart investment," Graham said. "We're building friends and allies for the future. We're doing the right thing. God will stand with us as long as we stand with Him."