(Jamaica Observer) New York, USA — An influential member of the US Congress, Congressman Eliot Engel, said here Saturday that Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean could see a 28 per cent decline in assistance under the US Agency for International Development (USAID) programme, if what he describes as a “draconian and short-sighted 33 per cent cut” in his country’s international affairs budget, as proposed by the Trump administration, is implemented.
In the specific case of Jamaica, Engel, the ranking member of the US house Foreign Affairs Committee, said assistance to the county “ would be cut by 90 per cent”, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars.
USAID has funded projects in agriculture, education, renewable energy, climate change, and other areas in Jamaica since 1962.
The congressman made the disclosure shortly after accepting the Family Unification and Resettlement Initiative (FURI) Pinnacle Award at the group’s 15th Fundraising and Awards Banquet in the Bronx.
The Jamaican group has been at the forefront of initiatives aimed at providing a smooth transition and reintegration of deported Jamaicans.
Considered strong voice for the interests of Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean in Congress, Engel said that aid to Haiti, the poorest country in the region, would be reduced by 17 per cent, while assistance to the Dominican Republic would drop by half and Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean would suffer a 41 per cent cut.
“Funding for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative would also drop by 37 per cent to $36.2 million,” Engel said.
He later announced that following a bipartisan intervention through a letter from representatives Yvette D Clarke, Ros Lehtinen, and himself, funding for the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative in 2018,”will be at same level of $57.7 million as this year”.
The congressman argued that the cuts “would be devastating”, but he did offer some hope, however, noting that “the good news is that Congress — not the president — has the power of the purse”.
Engel, who authored the US/Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in December last year, said he is keen to work with Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean Diaspora in enhancing the strategic relations between the US and the region.
The congressman also invited FURI to open dialogue with his office to see what specifically the US government can do — such as job training — to enable deported Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals to meet their full potential.