The budget agreement recently signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump includes funding for foreign assistance programs, including those in Armenia. Recent reports that the funding plan eliminates all foreign assistance to Armenia are wrong and based on a misunderstanding of the U.S. budget process.
Given the strong separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution, multiple branches of government, agencies, and lawmakers each have a role to play in setting our annual budget and spending priorities. The U.S. Congress authorizes the overall budget and allocates money to various executive agencies, such as the Department of State and USAID. In doing so, Congress provides these agencies with partial independent authority on how to spend those funds to achieve overarching goals. It is a decision made through an inter-agency process, involving a variety of stakeholders and interested parties. Through that process the Congressionally-approved amount of funding is divided between countries and programs, with the overall total not exceeding the amount originally approved by lawmakers.
In certain cases, Congress uses its authority to set specific spending requirements, something called an “earmark.” In this year’s budget bill, like in past years, Congress used this power to earmark some assistance funds to specific countries (in the region these include directed earmarks for Ukraine and Georgia). The remaining $58 million in assistance funding allocated by Congress for use in Europe and Eurasia will be divided among a number of countries without earmarks – including Armenia — with spending levels determined through the interagency process.
This budget process is not a change from previous years. Funding for Armenia was not specifically required by Congress through an earmark, but it has not been so for several years. This lack of an earmark does not mean Armenia will receive no foreign assistance. The decision on how to divide funding for Europe and Eurasia – including how much foreign assistance will be allocated to Armenia and for what programs — is currently under discussion in the State Department and USAID.
For 25 years the United States has been a strong partner and friend of Armenia given our shared values. In fact, U.S. foreign assistance spending in Armenia has been rising in recent years, with funding reaching almost $23 million in 2017. USAID alone spent $1.1 billion in Armenia since its independence and is currently managing a portfolio that is valued at $70 million and spans 28 different activities.
Given that the bill signed by President Trump earlier this month maintains foreign assistance spending at a level similar to last year, indications are positive that a robust level of assistance funding for Armenia will remain. We will keep the Armenian government and people informed as the spending discussions continue in Washington.