Busting the myths surrounding foreign aid

If you ask ONE members what the United States spends on foreign aid, I’m confident they would give you an emphatic answer: less than 1 percent of the total budget.

Yet a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey makes me less confident about how the majority of Americans would respond to the same question. This year’s survey found that the vast majority of Americans still think the percentage spent is much greater – upwards of 28 percent!

I  know we’ve heard this surprising figure before, but year after year it seems like this myth about foreign aid just won’t go away. Surprisingly, it’s even up one percentage point since last year, when most Americans thought foreign aid was (a still wildly incorrect) 27 percent of the budget. And that’s in spite of fantastic public education campaigns sponsored by advocacy organizations, including ONE.

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The reality is that the United States spends less than 1 percent on foreign aid programs. In fact, according to the Office of Management & Budget, the United States doesn’t even come close to spending 28 percent of its budget on any single program. A percentage that high would be more than the country’s total spending on Social Security, defense, or Medicare and Medicaid combined!

There is good news, though. After learning that the US spends less than 1 percent on foreign aid, many people’s perceptions of foreign aid immediately change – with many respondents even saying that we spend too little! We saw this same phenomenon in our “Man on the Street” video series, where many opponents of foreign aid quickly became staunch supporters after learning the facts.

Watch our “Man on the Street” video here:

Even more encouraging, there’s another statistic that still hasn’t changed: Americans still feel we should help others simply because it’s the right thing to do. We know that foreign aid programs help keep us safe and boost our economy, yet the most popular reason for why people support foreign aid continues to remain that it is that it is simply “the right thing to do.” More than half of all Democrats, Republicans and Independents polled all say that our spending on foreign aid programs is either too little or about right.

Foreign aid programs represent a proud American legacy, and as ONE members, our challenge is to spread the facts, debunk the myths, and use our voice more than ever to protect these lifesaving programs.

Take a minute to check out the full survey here. What surprised you most about the findings? Let us know!