The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition is launching a campaign called “Foreign Aid – What’s It Worth?”
Coalition President Liz Schrayer and campaign co-chair Hank Meijer, head of the Michigan-based Meijer Corporation, say the cost of ignoring investment abroad can be counted in lost jobs and lost lives.
That’s why, Schrayer says, the What’s It Worth campaign, at its core, poses a simple question.
Listen: Liz Schrayer and Hank Meijer explain why sending dollars and assistance abroad translates into economic benefits for Michigan.
Read excerpts from coalition President Liz Schrayer and campaign co-chair Hank Meijer, edited for clarity:
Liz Schrayer, president, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition: How to ensure that never, ever, are we going to be in this position of a global pandemic, if we can help it. And to make sure that we confront global challenges before they spiral out of control and end up at our doorstep. So that’s going to require us to highlight these countless benefits of how the U.S. can invest in development, diplomacy, global health, that impact our everyday lives. So we ask the question, “Foreign aid, what’s it worth? Diplomacy, what’s it worth?” And we think the answer is just simply that it affects healthier lives here at home, safety for those who serve customers, for our small farmers in Michigan and small businesses in Michigan. I grew up in the Midwest and my mom was born in Detroit, and I used to drive to Kalamazoo to visit my grandparents all the time. And Kalamazoo is literally ground zero for 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses that the U.S. just bought to provide all over the world that’s going to be critical in stopping these variants from spreading. And what’s it worth? Three thousand jobs here in Michigan, in addition to saving what will be millions of lives.
“Make sure that we confront global challenges before they spiral out of control and end up at our doorstep.” Liz Schrayer, President, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: Hank Meijer, you have a huge chain of stores throughout the state. There’ll be those that say stores in general, restaurants, etc., have been hemorrhaging money during the pandemic. They’re struggling to try to get workers back in right now. “We need every cent that we have to try to put into what we have right here, right now, as opposed to sending it overseas somewhere at a time when we’re just trying to get the economy back on an even footing.”
Hank Meijer, CEO, Meijer Corporation, co-chair, “What’s it Worth” campaign: Well, I think that’s really what we’re talking about, too. Because at Meijer, for example, we’re a retailer, we’re a Michigan company, not a multinational corporation. Michigan last year exported more than $44 billion worth of goods and that translated into 1.1 million jobs. That’s almost 20% of the workforce in Michigan. So, from our standpoint, we want our Michigan citizens, our Michigan customers, shoppers, to prosper, to have good jobs. And the way we have those good jobs is to support the manufacturing sector and an agricultural sector who thrive and depend on exports. And so that’s our interest. And that really makes the kind of foreign aid that’s [about] 1% of our American budget a massively important investment to keep those good Michigan jobs.
What about from a purely political perspective? Former President Trump often made a big deal about making America great again by making sure that products were made in America, that we should make sure that factories weren’t being moved overseas, etc. He added tariffs to try to stop that. And President Biden, when he was in Michigan recently talking about electric vehicles, said we need to make sure that the supply chains are in America. Again, when you’re trying to sell foreign aid to the average electorate, how do you push that and say that we should keep making things in America and yet send money outside of America at the same time?
Meijer: We need to support economies that can buy our American products. If the rest of the world’s economies aren’t able to follow ours, then we’re not going to be able to support those great Michigan jobs if that export market dried up. And I think both President Biden and former President Trump were passionate about the idea that, for example, in Michigan, our auto industry be resurgent. We can’t do that with just our domestic market. We do that working with our Canadian partners. Half of our trade is with Canada. And that’s mostly to support our automobile industry. It’s absolutely critical that what we manufacture can be sold all over the world.
Schrayer: Let me also add that this is one of the rare spaces of bipartisanship in Washington. In the last decade, more than 50 bipartisan bills were signed into law and support increased investments in global health, food security, women and girls’ economic competition in the space of development and diplomacy.
“We want our Michigan citizens, our Michigan customers, shoppers, to prosper, to have good jobs. And the way we have those good jobs is to support the manufacturing sector and an agricultural sector who thrive and depend on exports.” —Hank Meijer, chair, Meijer Corporation
So given all of that, what is it that you would like to see from Washington policymakers? Do you think an adequate amount of foreign aid is being sent at the moment? Are there other areas, other countries that you think should be targeted more? Do you think there should be an increase in foreign aid? If you had your druthers what would you like to see?
Schrayer: Foreign aid is about 1% of our entire federal budget. There’s a famous quote by former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who famously told Congress when he was asked about this question [if] we’re spending enough money, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then [the] military would need to spend more for ammunition.” The military is actually one of the strongest proponents for advancing our foreign aid and our diplomacy budgets. If we want to make sure, as I said at the front end, that we do not end up with another global pandemic, we have to make the investments now, so that we are not in this place ever again.
Do you think they’re making adequate investments right now?
Schrayer: We actually did a needs assessment at the beginning of this year to take a look at the kind of increases we’re seeing in hunger, in extreme poverty and migration, in a range of global crisis instability. So we’re calling for an increase. And we’re already seeing the kind of response on Capitol Hill from Democrats and Republicans who recognize the needs are much greater than what we’re investing now to keep Americans safe.
Meijer: What we want to see is American jobs prosper, American companies prosper. And the only way to do that is to make sure that we have the kind of relationships around the world that have people eager to buy our products. And that’s so much at the heart of Michigan’s economic prosperity. And that’s what we want to see continue.