Hanadi, 2 years and 8 months old, and weighs a paltry 7 kilograms. She is malnourished, weak and can’t walk. © UNICEF/UNI191720/Yasin

The White House Seeks to Eliminate Funding for UNICEF

The budget request released by the White House this week includes massive cuts to international affairs spending, including deep cuts to the State Department and USAID. But also included in the Trump administration’s chopping block: UNICEF, the UN agency that supports the health and welfare of vulnerable children around the world. The United States is historically one of the top funders of UNICEF, but the budget the White House sent to congress totally eliminates American support for UNICEF.

The cuts go deeper. The White House did not just zero out funding for UNICEF — it totally eliminated the entire budget line that funds a variety of UN agencies.  The State Department’s International Organizations and Programs Account, known as the IO&P account, is the budgetary vehicle that funds US contributions to UN development and humanitarian agencies including UNICEF, the UN Development Program,  UN Environment and the UN Population Fund and the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, among others.

The White House has requested a total of $0 for the IO&P account, effectively eliminating it.

Big Cuts to UN Peacekeeping

UN Peacekeeping also takes a huge hit in this budget request. A State Department budget line called the Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities, or CIPA, funds most of United States dues payments for UN Peacekeeping Operations around the world. (This account funds 12 out of 14 UN peacekeeping missions currently in operation). The White House seeks $1.136 billion for CIPA, which is $60 million below last year’s request and $415 million below what Congress enacted as part of the omnibus bill.

These proposed cuts come as UN Peacekeeping is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall. The United States is already accumulating significant arrears in the dues it owes to UN Peacekeeping operation and other countries were so late on their payments this year that the Secretary General in January warned that the UN only had cash on hand to fund two months worth of peacekeeping operations.

Needless to say, this budget request would impose deeper operational constraints to UN Peacekeeping operations–even as the UN is being asked by members of the Security Council (which includes the United States) to take on more and more complex operations.

The Regular UN Budget Takes a Hit

The White House seeks just over $1 billion for the State Department’s Contributions to International Organizations (CIO) which funds US dues payments to the regular UN budget. This would amount to about a 28% cut to UN agencies across the board compared to FY18 levels. Some entities funded through this account, like the World Health Organization, would take a bigger hit, at 47%  cut —  even as the WHO battles a raging ebola crisis in central Africa.

Fortunately for humanity, the Trump administration’s budget request is simply that — a request. Congress has consistently rejected the extremist elements of the Trump administration’s foreign affairs budget. Even when Congress was fully controlled by Republicans, these sorts of massive cuts were scaled back and in some cases rejected entirely. The IO&P account that funds UNICEF, for example, was funded at $339 million in the FY18 budget. This is roughly on par with enacted funding levels during the Obama administration.

In general, Congress has rejected these broad and deep cuts to US foreign affairs spending, reflecting a bi-partisan consensus that the United States ought to demonstrate global leadership by spending a tiny fraction of its budget on these activities.

Despite budget requests like this one from the White House, this consensus seems to be holding.