Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

U.S. humanitarian assistance, budget trends, and issues for Congress
21 December 2006
Rhoda Margesson
Library of Congress


Humanitarian emergencies can emerge anywhere in the world, stemming from natural disasters or man-made conflicts. U.S. and international humanitarian assistance can have an important impact not only on the relief operation itself but on broader foreign policy issues. In the 110th Congress, humanitarian assistance is likely to enjoy continued bipartisan support, with key policy issues focused on budget priorities, levels of funding, and the types of other support available worldwide.

The President can provide emergency humanitarian assistance through several sources whose funding is authorized and appropriated by Congress. These are funds appropriated to the Office of Foreign Disaster Administration (OFDA) in the Agency for International Development (USAID); U.S. Department of Agriculture food aid programs under P.L. 480 Food for Peace and Section 416 (b) of the Agriculture Act of 1949; the State Department Emergency Refugee and Migration Account (ERMA) a contingency account that can contain as much as $100 million for assistance to refugees fleeing persecution; and funds appropriated to the Department of Defense, Overseas Humanitarian and Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA).

In addition, the President has the authority to draw down defense equipment and direct military personnel to respond to disasters and provide space-available transportation on military aircraft and ships to private donors who wish to transport humanitarian goods and equipment in response to a disaster. Finally, the President can request other government agencies to assist within their capabilities. In FY2006 the United States contributed close to $3 billion to disaster relief worldwide.

This report examines U.S. humanitarian assistance in international crises and disaster situations. It considers the sources of U.S. government aid (including the governmental response mechanism), budget trends in humanitarian assistance, and issues for Congress. It does not specifically address the creation of a new Director of Foreign Assistance position at the State Department or the broader restructuring of U.S. foreign aid programs that are currently under way.1 The development of the FY2008 budget request will reportedly be a coordinated effort by joint State Department and USAID teams. While programmatic decision-making on refugee and humanitarian assistance may shift under the proposed foreign aid reform, it remains to be seen what affect this will have on existing procedures. This report will be updated as the restructuring initiatives evolve, or if in the meantime, the humanitarian response mechanism within the U.S. government changes.

  1. For background and information on this issue, see CRS Report RL33491, Restructuring U.S. Foreign Aid: The Role of the Director of Foreign Assistance, by Connie Veillette. See also [] and remarks by Secretary Rice at []. Ambassador Randall L. Tobias is the first Director of Foreign Assistance and serves concurrently as the Administrator of USAID.

Top of page   -   Home   -   Disclaimer
Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network
Octoplus Information Solutions