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April 6, 2020

COVID-19 and Foreign Assistance: Issues for Congress

As Congress considers policy responses to the global spread
of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Members of
Congress may consider the impact of the pandemic on U.S.
foreign assistance agencies and programs, and explore the
pandemic's influence on U.S. foreign aid priorities. This
analysis focuses on current pandemic-related personnel and
program issues at the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) and other U.S. foreign assistance
agencies, and identifies potential concerns about the
pandemic's effect on U.S. global development strategies.

On March 14, the State Department authorized the return to
the United States of high-risk U.S. government personnel
and family members from diplomatic or consular posts
abroad. The impact of such departures varies by post.
USAID maintains that all of its staff under Chief of Mission
authority are following State Department guidance on
authorized and ordered departure. The Millennium
Challenge Corporation (MCC) is also authorizing the
departure from overseas posts on a limited basis. The Peace
Corps, in contrast, has suspended all operations worldwide
out of concern that disruptions in international air travel
may make guaranteeing volunteer safety difficult. A
worldwide volunteer evacuation is underway; post staff
have not yet been evacuated.

The most recent COVID-19 supplemental legislation (P.L.
116-136) authorized the State Department and USAID to
provide additional paid leave to address employee
hardships related to COVID-19, both in the United States
and abroad. Many nongovernmental organizations that
implement U.S. foreign assistance through grants and
contracts are also taking steps to limit their employees'
exposure to the virus, including by limiting travel,
potentially affecting program costs and implementation

USAID has led U.S. foreign assistance efforts to address
the global spread and impact of COVID-19, in conjunction
with domestic and international activities of the Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS). To date, USAID
assistance has focused primarily on
* providing equipment and training to health care workers
   (though personal protective equipment, in short supply
   in the United States, is reportedly no longer being
* boosting lab and surveillance capacity;
* scaling up existing water, sanitation, and hygiene
   (WASH) programs to educate communities about how
   to slow the spread of the virus; and
*   addressing the impact of the virus on livelihoods.

Much of this assistance is channeled through the World
Health Organization (WHO), which is helping developing
countries prepare for large-scale COVID-19 testing and
implementation of public-health emergency plans.

Other assistance is being provided bilaterally: USAID
reports that it has committed $274 million in emergency
funds for up to 64 of the most at-risk countries facing the
COVID-19 threat (as of March 26). The Peace Corps'
suspension of operations precludes it from taking a role in
the response. MCC programs, which operate over a longer
time horizon, are unlikely to address the pandemic
significantly, though some operations have been disrupted
by country lockdowns and social distancing.

Funding. To date, Congress has appropriated almost $1.8
billion in emergency foreign assistance funds through two
supplemental appropriations bills to address the impact of
COVID-19 (a separate COVID-19 supplemental, P.L. 116-
127, did not include foreign assistance funds) (Table 1).

    Table I. FY2020 Emergency/Supplemental
        Foreign Aid for COVID-19 Response
                   (U.S.$ in millions)

                             P.L.      P.L.
         Account           116-123   116-136 Total

 USAID Op. Expenses                        95     95
 USAID Insp. General              I                I
 Global Health Programs        435               435
 Economic Support Fund         250               250
 Int'l. Disaster Assistance     300       258    558
 Migration & Refugee Assist.              350    350
 Peace Corps                               88     88
 Total, all accounts           986       791 1,777
 Source: P.L. 116-123, P.L. 116-136.
 Notes: Does not include State Department diplomatic and consular
funds or Department of Health and Human Services funding, as those
are not considered foreign assistance under the Foreign Assistance
Act of 196 1, as amended.
The first round of supplemental aid funding (P.L. 116-123,
signed into law on March 6) focused on replenishing
emergency health and disaster assistance funds that had
already been depleted by COVID-19 response activities. It
also included ESF funds for economic, security and
stabilization requirements related to the pandemic. The
second supplemental with foreign assistance funding (P.L.
116-136, signed into law on March 27) provided additional


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