It’s that time of year in Washington, D.C. when the debate over the federal budget goes into high gear.  For the upcoming fiscal year, 2015, the federal budget will be $1.014 trillion dollars, with just over half that amount going to defense programs. That leaves $492 billion for all other government programs, other than Social Security and Medicare.

So before I go too “wonky” on you, what does this mean in basic terms?  It means that $492 billion is that amount that Congress will decide how to spend over the next few months on everything from education programs to border security, and health research to housing programs.  While $492 billion sounds like a lot to spread around, how this money is distributed may not be how you think.

Take foreign assistance, for example.  How much do you think we spend helping the poor and vulnerable overseas?  $50 billion?  $100 billion?  What percentage of this pot of money are we sending beyond our borders?  According to some polls, Americans think the U.S. spends 30 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid?  Is this true?

Not even close.  Would you believe me if I told you that last year the foreign affairs budget was just over two percent of the entire federal budget?  If you look even closer at just those programs that focus on development and humanitarian assistance – programs to reach the sick, hungry, and vulnerable families living in poverty – that percentage goes down to 0.7 percent of the budget. Less than 1 percent.

Now you might be thinking, “Why do my tax dollars go towards foreign aid anyway? That’s what the church and World Vision are for.”  Yet, don’t we expect our government to promote our values?  If we value life for mothers and children everywhere, isn’t it worth just a small amount of our federal budget to support life-saving vaccines, malaria bed nets, and safe water?

It’s sometimes easy for foreign aid to be a target of cuts and criticism, in large part because of the myths and misconceptions around it, but also because the people benefiting from foreign assistance don’t live in the U.S.  They live in sub-Saharan Africa, in Syria, or the Philippines.  Our global neighbors. Their lives have been affected by drought, famine, disease, conflict, and disaster.  They need us to be their voice to our government – to educate ourselves about how important U.S. leadership and aid are and to fight for Congress to step up.

One way to educate yourself is to read a great resource from our friends at Oxfam that gives a “101” class on foreign aid.  Another is to stay connected to World Vision Advocacy through Beyond 5.  We’ll have some fun and exciting ways in the next few months for you to learn, engage, and advocate.

And we promise not to be too wonky.

Photo: Sultana Razia (left) is an advocate of change, serving her community to reduce maternal and child deaths by advising the community members on health related issues. © 2014 World Vision/ photo by Lipy Mary Rodrigues

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