Penny on the Dollar: US Foreign Aid is about One Percent of Spending

Foreign Aid is 1 Percent of Budget

One of the most enduring myths about the federal budget is that a significant portion of it goes overseas in the form of foreign aid.  In fact, foreign economic aid is about one percent of the federal budget. Foreign aid totals 1.4 percent of the budget if you include military assistance to foreign countries.  If that’s news to you, compare that to the share of the budget we spend on our own military, and it could change your perspective.

Glad we set that straight.

Where do those pennies go?

Top 5 Foreign Aid Countries Bar Chart

The biggest single country recipient of all types of foreign aid – both military and economic— in 2012 was Afghanistan, accounting for over a quarter of all foreign aid. Together, the top five country recipients in 2012 accounted for 57 percent of all foreign aid.

Besides military assistance, what does foreign aid buy?

Military aid is about a third of all foreign aid. The remaining two thirds is categorized as economic assistance.

The top five economic assistance categories in 2012 included global health and child survival, international narcotics control and law enforcement, and migration and refugee assistance. Other programs in the economic assistance category include the Peace Corps, international disaster and famine assistance, and disease control through the Centers for Disease Control. 

All for a penny on the dollar.


A note about the data: We used the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) database of Overseas Loans and Grants:Obligations and Loan Authorizations, July 1, 1945 to September 30,2012 to provide foreign aid numbers by country and type of aid. In the past, some NPP work has used the President's budget to look at total foreign aid as a percent of the budget. Because of different spending classifications, each source gives a somewhat different total for foreign aid, but that doesn't change the basic calculation that aid is about one percent of the budget.