On-The-Record Briefing: On U.S. Foreign Assistance in Response to COVID-19


Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release


March 26, 2020

On-The-Record Briefing

USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick and Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources James L. Richardson On U.S. Foreign Assistance in Response to COVID-19

March 26, 2020

Via Teleconference

MS ORTAGUS: Well, let’s go ahead and get started, everybody. This is Morgan, spokesperson. I just want to remind everybody that everything that we discuss on this call is embargoed until the end of the call, and this call will be on the record.

So the U.S. Government is rapidly mobilizing unprecedented resources to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic both home and abroad. Today, I am pleased to announce that the United States has made available nearly 274 million in emergency health and humanitarian funding, continuing the American people’s leadership in responding to this pandemic.

To help expand and explain on this announcement further, we have joining us for this on-the-record call Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and James Richardson, Director of the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Assistance Resources.

Bonnie will begin with some opening remarks and then turn it over to Jim, and then we’ll take a few questions. Ruben has given out his phone number, which you could go ahead and text if you’d like to ask a question. And just another reminder for a few people that dialed in late, this briefing is embargoed until the end of the call and it is on the record.


MS GLICK: Morgan, thank you so much. Good afternoon, everyone. I hope that you’re all well and that everyone is feeling healthy today. It is weird to be giving a press briefing without being able to see all of you, but I trust that won’t dampen our spirits at all.

We wanted to talk to you today about a story that we feel hasn’t gotten enough attention, and that is how the United States is leading the global effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically with regards to global health and humanitarian assistance.

Under the direction of President Trump, the United States Government is responding rapidly. The U.S. was among the first nations to offer help to the Chinese people, and we are the largest financial backers of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. In early February, the United States delivered more than 17 tons of medical supplies to China donated by the American people. These supplies included masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.

Secretary Pompeo’s announcement today brings us to a total of $274 million in funding for 64 of the most at-risk countries facing the threat of this global pandemic, including the $100 million that Secretary Pompeo announced on February 2nd.

The announcement of $110 million from the International Disaster Assistance Account will be provided into at-risk countries through multilateral organizations and implementing partners to support humanitarian assistance needs resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. This funding will support countries by providing protective services, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, livelihood assistance, and humanitarian response coordination in order to mitigate the broader economic stabilization and security effects of the outbreak.

This funding will target the following high-priority countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Africa, Tajikistan, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This new assistance builds on the United States record of global health leadership. For decades, the United States has been the world’s largest provider of bilateral assistance in public health. The U.S. has saved lives, protected people who are most vulnerable to disease, built health institutions, and promoted the stability of communities and nations. In only the last 20 years, USAID and the Department of State have invested nearly $120 billion in public health worldwide. We’re on the front lines in the fight against Ebola. We support countries in their battles against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. And we will drive the global response to the novel coronavirus disease even as we battle it on the home front. We welcome continued no-strings-attached contributions from other donors to further catalyze the global response efforts underway as we fight this deadly pathogen.

The United States and the American people represent the most generous nation in the world when it comes to foreign assistance. We represent this generosity through government, industry, foundations, nonprofits, the faith community, and every American. It’s who we are as a nation. In the battle against coronavirus, we are saving lives, not saving face.

With that, I’d like to turn it over now to you, Jim.

MR RICHARDSON: Great. Thank you, Bonnie. Again, this is Jim Richardson, director of foreign assistance here at the State Department. It really has been impressive to see the Department of State and USAID, and really the whole of government, under the leadership of President Trump and Secretary Pompeo, to come together to respond to this global pandemic. American leadership is critical at this time, and the foreign assistance funded today marks an important step forward as we combat COVID-19 both at home and abroad.

Of the 274 million that the Secretary announced today, Bonnie covered about 210 of that. The other $64 million will be provided in refugee assistance – or, sorry, humanitarian assistance for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, to assist in its pandemic response efforts for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. This new funding builds upon many decades of U.S. leadership in global health and humanitarian assistance. As Bonnie talked about, several of these countries, the initial 70 – or 64 countries identified were based on consultations with our amazing teams around the world, at missions and embassies, focused on need and prioritization as the global efforts of this virus rapidly evolves.

There is no doubt the American people are the greatest humanitarians the world has ever known, contributing almost $500 billion in official development assistance around the world just in the past 20 years alone, which – this is on top of the hundreds of billions Americans have contributed through corporate donations, NGOs, charitable organizations, and faith-based groups. We have demonstrated particular leadership when it comes to global health and humanitarian assistance, laying the foundations for countries to respond to this crisis by bolstering health systems and building country capacity over many decades. The numbers simply speak for themselves.

In this past decade alone, the American taxpayers have generously invested nearly $170 billion in health and humanitarian assistance globally. That is the frontline response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without that investment, the world would be at a dramatically different place today.

But the U.S. is really in a league of – on its own. The United States contributes close to 40 percent of the world’s global health assistance every year, nearly five times larger than the next donor, which is the UK, and 30 times – and 30 percent of the world’s humanitarian assistance.

The U.S. Government is not alone in its contribution. The generosity of the American people is demonstrated above and beyond official development assistance that I’ve outlined here. As it address – with the COVID-19 response, so far we have seen in excess of $1.5 billion from the American people and donations from American businesses, NGOs, and religious and charitable organizations. We are truly mobilized as a nation to confront this daily – this deadly virus both here and abroad. As Bonnie said, we welcome high quality, transparent, no-strings-attached contributions from every other donor in the world. Please join us in our work to further catalyze the global response currently underway.

In the face of this virus, our global leadership will continue. It is once again underscored by today’s announcement by Secretary Pompeo.

With that, I’m glad to answer any of your questions.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Ruben, can you go ahead and start going through the queues, please?

Ruben, do we still have you? Apologies, everybody. We may have a technical difficulty here.

MS GLICK: I still hear you, Morgan. It’s Bonnie.

QUESTION: I still hear you, Morgan. It’s Lara Jakes at The New York Times and I have questions.

MS ORTAGUS: Great. Go ahead, Lara. I think we lost Ruben. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Fabulous, thanks. Bonnie, you mentioned the multilateral donations. I was wondering how much of this is going to the $2 billion pledge that – or not pledged, but appeal that UNOCHA announced the other day. And I was wondering: The United States and Secretary Pompeo have said several times that aid was offered to Iran, but it’s been rejected. I was wondering how much aid, and what was that aid for? Thank you.

MS GLICK: Jim, why don’t I toss that back to you? Lara, Jim is the guy with the numbers.

MR RICHARDSON: I’m happy to take that. So in each individual country, the way that we’d look at this is we want to make sure that the very best assistance ends up in the hands of the recipient in the host country, not necessarily through whatever organization. So yes, we do get appeals; yes, we are the largest donor to both WHO and to UNICEF. That will certainly continue. And in the fact sheet that you’ll get after this call, which will list every country with every level of – line of effort, you should be able to see in there sort of some of the potential implementing partners. But there are times where we want to use the WHO and there are times where – obviously, we’ve just announced $64 million for UNHCR.

But in every country, the technical experts are looking at the request, looking at how we can get the assistance fastest, most efficiently, most effectively. Sometimes that’s through a multilateral; sometimes that’s through our bilateral assistance. As you know, USAID and CDC have a network of on-the-ground technical experts all around the world through their daily work. We want to leverage those platforms, whether that be PEPFAR or malaria, the President’s Malaria Initiative. And so we’re really looking at the best mechanism for each individual piece. So it’d be hard for me to tell you exactly what the final disposition of the – of WHO or UNICEF appeal. We’ll see that as we finalize contracts. But what we are announcing here today is a topline number, number by country, and sort of what we are looking to invest in those – in that country.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Iran freeze? On the —

MR RICHARDSON: Oh, and on the – on Iran freeze, I’d have to – I’m not part of those conversations on Iran. We’d have to connect back with Brian Hook and see what are the status of those conversations. I’m not privy to that conversation.

MS GLICK: But Lara, for your readers, the bottom line on Iran is that they rejected American assistance.

QUESTION: Could I ask a question?

MR HARUTUNIAN: Everyone, I’m sorry. This is Ruben. I had dropped off the call. Abby Williams has the next question.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing the call. I was wondering if you could say if China has accepted the aid that has been given, and how they’ve used it, or how you’ve seen them use it. And also if the U.S. has as part of their reaching out other countries to ramp up production there’s any been – there’s been any discussion with China about them supplying the United States.

MS GLICK: So my understanding, Abby, is that China accepted large quantities of what were, at the time in February, private contributions from Americans, American companies, American foundations.

MR RICHARDSON: I would just add that obviously the U.S. has contributed through this – I think right now we’re looking at $11 million of direct contributions to WHO and UNICEF through this announcement, and we’ll continue to work with our partners to make sure that the resources go to the right place at the right time.

MR HARUTUNIAN: Nick Wadhams has the next question.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much. I’m still slightly unclear. So the $274 million that’s announced today, that includes the $100 million that was announced on February 2nd? So aside from what you had mentioned, I believe the $64 million or so, what else is actually new funding here? And how much of that – you indicated I think would be financial contributions, so just to be clear, the United States is not currently offering materials such as protective equipment to other countries. Is that correct? Thanks.

MR RICHARDSON: So this is Jim. So on the PPE question, so where there is a critical shortfall in the United States, obviously, we can’t pay for donations of materials that we can’t actually procure, but there is actually a lot of requirements around the world that we are responding to, and we’ve worked with our country teams to make sure that we are getting the right materials that countries need. Now, obviously, we can’t give them everything that they are looking for, but as supplies become more plentiful here in the United States, we’ll look to obviously continue to ramp up assistance around the world.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), thank you.

MS GLICK: So Nick, for your specifics on that question, you did your – the math correctly, and so we were at about $110 million from the International Disaster Assistance account, and that’ll go – just to give you some specifics, apart from the PPE question, it’ll go for things like water, sanitation, and hygiene; food security, livelihood assistance. And a big piece of what we do is helping with the humanitarian response to coordinate efforts within countries to mitigate the broader economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreaks.

MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, and then – and Nick, the other part of that is – so there’s the hundred million that the Secretary said we are going to spend up to, and then we made subsequent announcements of the breaking down of the funding, but we didn’t tell you exactly where around the world that funding was going. So as part of this announcement, we have country-by-country allocations of the 64 countries that are – we’re providing assistance to. That covers the original hundred that so far has just been sort of – a goal and clear that we’re going to spend that, plus the humanitarian of 110, plus the refugee funding of 64. So that gets you to your 274 – or 264 number – 74 number.

MR HARUTUNIAN: Okay. Nick Schifrin has the next question.

QUESTION: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing this. Can I just ask – go back to Abbie’s question about China and ask, kind of, what seems to me the elephant in the room? Bonnie, you said specifically in the battle against coronavirus, we are saving lives, not saving face, and you obviously mentioned no strings attached a couple of times. So are you guys criticizing the aid that China is offering? And what would you say to the European countries who have accepted some of this aid that is badly needed, including medical equipment that’s going from China to Italy? Thanks.

MR RICHARDSON: Yeah, this is Jim. I would just say that the Chinese Communist Party has a special responsibility to provide no-strings-attached assistance around the world and take responsibility for what everyone realizes is the result of the coverup that happened in Wuhan. I think every country around the world would be ecstatic and should be to receive high-quality, transparent contributions from every donor around the world, and we would just encourage all donors, but especially China – again, we think that they have a special responsibility in this – to provide that assistance, but it does need to make sure that it is high quality and that it does – is a no-strings-attached. We can’t burden financially difficult countries facing this pandemic in addition to their economic conditions. We should not ask them to take on more debt to keep their people healthy.

Bonnie, I don’t know if you have anything more to say.

MS GLICK: I would echo exactly what Jim said perfectly.

MR HARUTUNIAN: Last question is Said Arikat.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ruben; thank you, Morgan; thank you, Bonnie and Jim. I wanted to ask, under this current unusual circumstances and dark conditions, would the U.S. reconsider its aid cutoff to Palestinian refugees, to UNRWA, by any amount of money? Thank you.

MR RICHARDSON: This is Jim. I think it’s —


MR RICHARDSON: Yeah. So I would say that every country in – around the world, if – as needs are seen on the ground, they are working with our teams around the world to identify need and bring those requests to Washington. I would say that it’s important for countries to come forward if they have needs. I think this is what we saw particularly in China where the need was not apparent right away. So as – transparency is hugely important, so we would just encourage every government around the world, including the Palestinian Authority, to come forward with a request of assistance, and we will take that under consideration.


MS GLICK: One other short thing to add to that is we noted that the Govenrment of Qatar has generously offered assistance to the Palestinians. So recognizing that the United States is not the only donor in the world focusing on the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re grateful that other nations are rising to the task as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: Great. Well, thank you, everybody, for dialing in. I know Jim and I think Bonnie both have to get on a call with the Hill. Oh, it looks like we have – Kylie wanted to ask one more. Do you – Jim and Bonnie, do you have time for one more from Kylie, or do you have to jump?

MR RICHARDSON: Always for Kylie.

MS ORTAGUS: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), appreciate it. It’s actually just two quick questions. So I just want to clarify: At this time, there’s no PPE being provided as part of the U.S. assistance? And just in that vein, given that you laid out that there was actual medical supplies provided to China earlier this year, is there any regret on the behalf of the U.S. for doing that?

And then the second question is: Jim, you mentioned strings being attached to aid. At this time, does the U.S. Government have any proof that there are strings being attached to the assistance that China is providing? Thank you.

MR RICHARDSON: On the strings attached, I mean, I’m not the intelligence folks, so I don’t know what exactly has been proven. I read the same articles that you do about demands that the Chinese Government placed, and I would just say – I mean, just look at the Belt and Road Initiative writ large. I mean, they request mineral rights, they request deep sea access ports, they request loyalty letters from governments. I mean, they request a lot of things in exchange for essentially loans, so it’s not even for grants. And so I think – I don’t have any hard proof besides the articles that I’ve seen, but that certainly rings true. If you – if anyone has spent time in the developing world where China is active, you see this happening time and time again.

In terms of the medical supplies, that’s – the medical supplies that Bonnie referenced is from private donors, so it wasn’t from the U.S. Government per se.

And then on the PPE question – so as a general principle, where there are shortages of critical medical supplies here in the United States, unfortunately we can’t provide that assistance and – through our mechanisms from the United States. There are other sources that people can get assistance. There are some sources of PPE and the like around the world, while in short supply, but I think under President Trump’s leadership, the manufacturing base of the United States is rapidly shifting to be able to produce PPE and ventilators and other critical medical supplies, so we do hope that in the near future we will be able to provide that assistance to countries all around the world.

Bonnie, did you have anything more to add on that question?

MS GLICK: No, I think that hits the nail on the head. Thanks, Jim.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: Great. Well, thanks so much, Bonnie and Jim —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS ORTAGUS: — for being on this call and for making this possible today. We will, of course, have another briefing tomorrow, so thanks, everybody. Bye.

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