We couldn’t agree more with the words of Congresswoman Jackie Speier – a U.S. Representative of Armenian heritage who serves as co-chair of the Armenian Caucus – arguing in favor of reprogramming the existing U.S. aid package to help Armenia contain the COVID-19 crisis.
There is, of course, nothing more urgent than saving lives – especially during this global COVID-19 pandemic. That should be clear to everyone. But, sadly, it is not being applied to the U.S. assistance program for Armenia, which has not yet – months into this crisis – re-purposed millions in already appropriated aid to deal with this health emergency. This is a decision that should have been made as soon as the scope and depth of this crisis became clear. The European Union was quick to act on this score, reprogramming over 33 million euros for this purpose, while the Russians and Chinese have sent large aid packages.
The U.S. State Department has announced $1.1 million in additional COVID-19 aid, but has said nothing about the tens of millions already approved by Congress for Armenia aid programs. Late as it is, it’s still not too late for the U.S. government to do the right thing – which means moving funds from lesser priorities to the most urgent priority – containing the virus, caring for its victims and supporting the most vulnerable through this crisis.
Congresswoman Speier – speaking at a Virtual Town Hall meeting hosted this month by the Armenian National Committee of America’s San Francisco-Bay Area Chapter – stressed, “The effort to redirect some of the $40 million that I was able to get into the budget for this fiscal year, is something that we will certainly pursue and it makes all the sense in the world, when you are in a pandemic like this, what’s the most urgent need? The urgent need is to provide care to those who are sick, to prevent those from getting sick, and certainly to test those who may or may not be exposed.”
Last month and again earlier this month, the Armenian National Committee of America wisely called on the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to promptly reprogram funding already appropriated by Congress for Armenia and to ensure that those funds be used to save lives and sustain at-risk families across our homeland. This type of prudent action would show that America’s foreign aid program is nimble enough to know that saving lives – in the face of what we hope is a once in a lifetime pandemic – is sound public policy. After all, what could be more pressing a priority than using these already appropriated funds to save lives?
As Russia, China and the European Union boost their COVID-19 related humanitarian assistance to the Republic of Armenia, we believe the U.S. Department of State would be wise to rapidly reprogram funds already appropriated by Congress to help Armenia contain this pandemic and minimize the economic impact this health emergency is having on the one in four Armenians who live today in poverty.