June 12, 2015 - 15:47 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - U.S. House Appropriators prioritized aid for Syrian relief, but remained largely silent on specific Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016) aid levels for the Caucasus, underscoring the pivotal role that pending Senate consideration of this measure will play in addressing Armenian American concerns, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The full House Appropriations Committee 'marked up' and voted on their version of the FY 2016 foreign aid bill, after considering a short list of amendments offered by members of the panel, all but one of which were rejected on party-line votes. In the draft report submitted alongside the measure, appropriators cited continued funding to assist Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, then went on to note, more broadly:
"The Committee remains concerned about the plight of refugees from Syria and the burden they face as well as the strain on host communities. The Committee urges the Department of State to continue to do the following: (1) help host countries expand their national systems to accommodate refugee needs; (2) assist host country capacity to deliver basic services to their own citizens; (3) strengthen the ability of local governments to respond to the refugee influx; and (4) ensure that refugees have freedom of movement and meaningful access to economic opportunity."
The measure did not make specific reference to U.S. economic aid priorities in Armenia, Artsakh, Azerbaijan, or Georgia, though $20 million was allotted in military assistance to Georgia. The resolution also maintained "Section 907" restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan, based on the 1992 law which condemned that country's aggression and blockade against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
The Senate's consideration of its version of this bill is set to start in early July with a mark-up by the Appropriations Subcommittee of State-Foreign Operations.
In the months leading up to the House and Senate FY2016 foreign aid process, the ANCA has led a grassroots initiative to secure:
1) At least $5 million in U.S. developmental aid to Nagorno Karabakh.
2) Zero-out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until it agrees with OSCE Minsk Group calls to pull back its snipers, ceases its aggression, renounces violence, and commits to a purely peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.
3) At least $40 million in U.S. economic assistance to Armenia.
4) A special focus on addressing the difficulties in providing humanitarian and resettlement aid to Armenian, Assyrian and other at-risk minorities in Syria, as well as targeted aid to help Armenia settle thousands fleeing from Syria.
5) At least 10% of U.S. assistance to Georgia to be used for job creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of that country.
6) Language strengthening Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.
Earlier this year, the ANCA's Kate Nahapetian testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, outlining the Armenian American community's foreign aid priorities.
In February, the Obama-Biden Administration released its FY2016 budget which called for yet another reduction in U.S. economic assistance to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, while maintaining parity in appropriated military aid to these two countries.
The President's proposal of $18,360,000 in Economic Support Funds for Armenia in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 would, if approved by Congress, represent a record low in such aid since Armenia's independence. The White House's proposal for Armenia is over $2 million less than FY 2014's actual economic aid allocation, and less than half of the $40 million requested in a Congressional Armenian Caucus letter and ANCA Congressional testimony submitted last year.
The ANCA has, amid declining aid levels, prioritized an aid-to-trade transition for Armenia. The recent adoption of a U.S.-Armenia Trade and Investment Framework Agreement represents one of the most recent results of the ANCA's work in this direction.