March 7, 2007

Washington, DC –  Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today expressing his “profound dismay at the steep and unwarranted budget cuts” proposed in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget for U.S. foreign assistance programs to India.

Lantos expressed his “deep concern that the 35% reduction requested in the budget would effectively zero out highly successful USAID programs in clean energy development, water and sanitation, women’s rights, and basic education,” thereby “sending the wrong signal at the wrong time to our Indian counterparts and inadvertently jeopardizing key elements of our increasingly multifaceted partnership with India.”

India received $131 million in assistance during the last fiscal year; the latest budget request provides only $81 million in assistance to India.

Despite a decade of strong economic growth and a burgeoning middle class, India remains home to nearly a third of the world’s poorest people. Authoritative studies by the World Bank reveal that in India today, 350 million people live on less than $1 a day, more than 60% of households are without electricity, about 20% without a safe and clean water source, and over 70% without adequate sanitation.

“The proposed Fiscal Year 2008 foreign assistance budget disregards the critical priorities of our Indian partners, ironically casting doubt on the Administration’s commitment to the goal of transformational diplomacy at the very time when sweeping progress is within our grasp,” Lantos’ letter to Secretary Rice reads.

“This is no time for Washington to retreat from a strong, strategic commitment to helping India meet its pressing development goals. This is not only a humanitarian gesture that demonstrates U.S. values, but also a smart investment in our future security and prosperity.”

Regional experts have expressed concerns that a reduction in U.S. foreign aid to India would jeopardize America’s commitment to a Presidential-level agricultural initiative announced by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh at their historic July 2005 summit, and Lantos wrote that the Administration’s proposed fiscal year 2008 budget contains “peremptory cuts that needlessly squander considerable U.S. investment, influence and good will with the people of India.”

The letter was spearheaded by Lantos, Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), and signed by members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, which McDermott chairs.

"We can all see a day when India will no longer need assistance from us to address unmet needs, but that day is not yet here,” said Ackerman, the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “The Administration's proposed cuts in aid to India undermine important progress made in public health and are short-sighted, to say the least."

“India is a strong and important U.S. ally and our commitment to India must be about more than just lip service,” McDermott said. “The US and India are in the midst of expanding our strategic partnership, and these programs are needed to ensure that the benefits of that partnership are extended to all Indians."

Lantos will chair a hearing of the full House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the subject of foreign aid reform Thursday, March 8 at 10:00 a.m.