Foreign Aid: What’s in It for the U.S.? 

By: Emily Goldberg  |  May 14, 2024

By Emily Goldberg, Publication Manager and Layout Editor 

Unfortunately, in this day and age, the media has become consumed with talk about war. The Israel-Hamas war that began with Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on October 7. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. The looming threat of China potentially invading Taiwan. With the global stage in a state of disarray, the United States’ involvement in foreign affairs has never been more important. Indeed, many of these countries have turned to the United States for aid amidst the rising tensions. 

What defines ‘foreign aid’ and where does the United States acquire the money to help their international counterparts? Moreover, what motivates the U.S. to offer foreign aid, and how does the country benefit from sharing? 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, foreign aid is defined as “assistance (such as economic aid) provided by one nation to another.” Specifically, this may include supplying another country with physical means such as food or weapons, but also can include providing other countries with military training and guidance. 

According to a CRS report, in 2019, the U.S. gave most of its “development aid” (77 percent), in the form of “project-based assistance” which constitutes performing specific projects for other countries, “channeled through an implementing partner, most often a contractor, multilateral organization, or nongovernmental organization, to complete a specific project.” 

However, according to the Modern War Institute at West Point, the U.S. has increasingly begun providing foreign countries with military training as well. From 1999 to 2016, the  U.S. trained more than 2.3 million “military students” from other countries, such as Taiwan, Thailand, and Ukraine, an endeavor they spent close to $15 billion on. “In 2019 alone, the United States trained over 71,000 students from 157 countries.”  

Moreover, the type of aid that a country receives from the U.S. generally depends on the country’s specific needs. For example, if a country is at war, the U.S. will provide them with military assistance while underdeveloped countries receive medical aid or humanitarian assistance. 

According to the Center for Global Development, most of the foreign aid that the United States provides to other countries comes from the international affairs budget, also known as Function 150 or the 150 account. This foreign aid is generally split into two categories, “international development and humanitarian assistance (151) and international security assistance (152).”

More specifically, according to The Borgen Project “Function 150 is the international affairs account which includes money allocated for aid for developing nations, and consequently where a significant amount of global poverty and hunger funding falls.” Additionally, “The account also includes money for operation of U.S. consulates and embassies; military assistance for our allies; economic assistance to be disbursed to new democracies; promotion of U.S. exports; payments to international organizations; and international peacekeeping efforts.” 

According to the U.S. Department of State, Function 150 of the Federal budget, which is the United State’s International Affairs budget, is where the funding for conducting U.S. foreign policy comes from. This budget is managed by The Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance. 

Tax dollars also make up part of the foreign aid budget. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, 1 percent of the tax dollars that a single person pays, about $79.90, goes towards “International Affairs.” 

During 2022, the United States government spent $70.4 billion in foreign aid. That means 1 percent of government spending in 2022 went towards foreign aid. Specifically, in 2022, the top three recipients of foreign spending were Ukraine which received $12.4 billion, Israel which received $3.3 billion, and Ethiopia which received $2.2 billion. Some other countries that received foreign aid from the U.S. in 2022 were Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, and Jordan. 

The most recent U.S. foreign aid package, consisting of $95 billion in foreign aid, that Congress passed, included aid for three different categories. In this package, Ukraine will receive $61 billion to restock weapons that the U.S. has already provided them with in the past. Ukraine was given $13.8 billion to purchase new weapons and $9 billion to assist the country economically, “in the form of ‘forgivable loans.’” 

This package also allotted $26 billion jointly to Israel, for its war efforts against Hamas, as well as to Gaza, for humanitarian assistance amid the ongoing war. About $9 billion from this budget will be allotted for humanitarian aid to Gaza while $13.8 billion of this budget has been set aside to restock “Israel’s missile defense system.” 

Finally, the package included “$8 billion for helping U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region and countering China,” such as providing Taiwan with $1.9 billion for weapons. About $3.3 billion will also go towards “submarine infrastructure and development.”  

Although it may seem counterintuitive, providing foreign assistance to other countries is extremely beneficial for the U.S. According to an article on Brookings, providing foreign aid benefits the U.S. by doing three things. Firstly, by contributing to the efforts of our allies, the U.S. upholds both national as well as global stability and calm. Moreover, helping other countries in need of our assistance is one of the fundamental beliefs of our country, a free world founded on the principle of democracy. Finally, it is in the economic interest of the U.S. to build up the economies of other countries. 

Therefore, providing foreign aid to other countries not only assists those in need, but directly correlates to the success of the U.S. and its global efforts. By providing foreign assistance to other countries when they request our help, we uphold the democratic values that our country holds dear as well as see a direct impact on our international interests.