New Mexico is a state with a higher rate of poverty than the national average and where more than a quarter of children live below the poverty line. And a pandemic, like we are experiencing today, can only amplify and heighten what inequalities already existed.
Our New Mexican leadership has often, and rightly, been forced to call out the White House as their priorities have become more and more partisan ahead of November’s election – placing priority on drilling projects which impact our lands and our tourist industry, on narrowed COVID-19 testing strategies when our tribal communities are feeling the brunt of the impact, and on moving the deadlines for U.S. Census data which, in a state with the lowest response rates in the nation, would cause the state to lose the federal funding that keeps our communities from falling behind. However, where no one seems to be looking for solutions is in our foreign policy.
Maybe that’s because it’s “foreign,” and many people see foreign aid as taking away from domestic aid, supporting corrupt or wasteful foreign governments, and making up as much as a quarter of the U.S. budget. But foreign aid really makes up just 1% of the budget, so cutting that 1% by 21% as the Trump administration has proposed would have very little impact on U.S. government spending. And especially if, of that, most of those dollars (0.8%) go to war-focused expenditures rather than to foreign investment (0.2%). Myths about foreign aid have been made it into a straw man by our current administration. But it should be viewed as a critical investment in U.S. jobs, our economy and global health and security.
Foreign policy legislation should matter to our state because economic diversification has been a platform for state politicians here for years. Our state’s economy and thousands of New Mexican jobs depend on state exports to countries who were previously recipients of U.S. foreign aid, including: Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Israel and the UAE. And assisting people in other countries with the transition from barely surviving to buying U.S. goods and products can bring more and higher paying jobs to our state when we really need them. Why shouldn’t it be a priority for our leaders to invest in global solutions to a global pandemic, which has hit New Mexican communities, especially our Native communities, incredibly hard? If solutions aren’t going to be linked to organizations like the World Health Organization, they should come directly from our congressmen, as emergency supplementals to our International Affairs Budget, or as State Department projects and investments instead.
Leadership can come from Sen. Tom Udall, who currently sits on the Committee on Foreign Relations and the Appropriation Committee, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, who sits on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. They are in a position to sponsor this kind of action. Now is the time to put pressure on Congress to recommit to U.S. leadership and prevent future pandemics by protecting us with smart legislation and investment here and abroad.
Kate Nash lives in Santa Fe.