President Biden released the details of his first budget proposal late last week. When it comes to international family planning funding, it’s a small step forward. Unfortunately, we need a giant leap.
Family planning is one of the best investments that governments can make. It brings enormous returns in terms of health, environmental protection, economic development, poverty alleviation, and political stability. Yet, for all the benefits it provides, funding for international family planning programs has remained stagnant for a decade.
Following the high point of U.S. investment in these programs in 2010, when the Obama administration and Congress provided $715 million, support has dropped to $607 million now. It hasn’t helped that the previous administration refused to provide a single dollar to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and disqualified many of the most effective providers in the world with the disgraceful Global Gag Rule.
President Biden rescinded the Global Gag Rule in January and has acted to restore aid to UNFPA. These steps are crucial to rebuilding damaged family planning programs. And he is proposing increasing overall investment in these programs to $639.7 million — with $56 million of that going to UNFPA, an increase of just over $30 million, or about 5 percent. It’s welcome news, of course, but it’s far too little. If funding for these programs had simply kept pace with inflation since 2010, the U.S. would be providing $875.7 million. But even that is only about half of what’s needed to meet the global unmet need for contraceptives.
There are currently an estimated 218 million women in the developing world who want to prevent or delay pregnancy, but have an unmet need for contraceptives. The pandemic has undoubtedly made that worse. The United Nations has estimated that in Latin America alone, the pandemic has disrupted access to contraceptives for 20 million people.
That could be catastrophic for those families, and also for their communities and countries. We know that population growth continues to pose massive challenges for the entire planet. Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke recently at an international forum where he made the case that population growth was far outpacing the ability to produce enough food. The Sahara is growing and taking over land that was once fertile. Coastal areas are threatened by rising sea levels. And Nigeria is likely to reach a population of 400 million by mid-century, becoming the third largest nation in the world.
Neighboring Niger has the world’s highest population growth rate. It’s population has more than doubled in the last 25 years. More than 40 percent of Nigeriens live on less than a dollar a day, half the population is under 15, and women face a 1 in 23 chance of dying as a result of pregnancy-related causes. By any measure, Niger is teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Steep barriers to contraceptive access, often driven by ideological opposition in the United States, mean that contraceptive prevalence is low.
It’s often said that budgets are about more than dollars, they are statements of our values. President Biden has offered a step forward. Congress needs to make a much a greater leap by passing the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act, and by increasing the funding for these crucial programs to $1.74 billion.