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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. March 11, 2016
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman March 11, 2016

Marco Rubio says foreign aid is less than 1 percent of federal budget

Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the United States, so Social Security was one of the big topics during the March 10 Republican debate in Miami.

Most candidates spoke of how they would modify the program when discussing the balance sheet for Social Security. Donald Trump, though, suggested the United States cut back on foreign aid and other military spending in order to keep Social Security solvent.

Marco Rubio said he often hears people argue that a lot of taxpayer money can be saved by cutting back on foreign aid. That’s not reality, though.

"I'm against any sort of wasting of money on foreign aid, but it's less than 1 percent of our federal budget," Rubio said. "We can't just continue to tip-toe around this and throw out things like I'm going to get at fraud and abuse. Let's get rid of fraud, let's get rid of abuse, let's be more careful about how we spend foreign aid. But you still have hundreds of billions of dollars of deficit that you're going to have to make up."

We wanted to fact-check whether foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

The amount the United States spends on foreign aid depends on who is doing the tally, as a 2011 Congressional Research Service report explained. Different agencies include different elements when they calculate what the United States spends on foreign aid. We'll use 2013 as an example, the most recent year for all four sources.

• The federal budget only includes programs that fall under the International Affairs section of the budget, specifically sections 151 and 152. It says $32.5 billion was spent in 2013.

• The U.S. Overseas Loans & Grants database, also known as the "Greenbook," developed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) uses a broader definition. The latest Greenbook lists the United States as giving $31.9 billion in total economic assistance and $8 billion in total military assistance that year, for a total of $39.9 billion.  

• The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of  34 developed countries, measures foreign aid by calendar year and excludes all military assistance. It says the United States spent $31.3 billion in "official developmental assistance."

• And the CRS has its own total that includes "foreign operations" plus food aid, usually found in the agriculture section of the budget. It pegged the amount at $35.74 billion.

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So the range goes from $31.3 billion to $39.9 billion. On a total federal budget of just under $3.5 trillion, that's 0.9 percent to less than 1.2 percent.

In addition, we found multiple reports that put the figure in the ballpark of what Rubio mentioned.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget wrote in 2015 that "foreign aid represents a total of 0.7 percent of the budget, or 1 percent if military aid is included. That means fully eliminating foreign aid would save only $35 billion or $40 billion per year – a very small fraction of projected annual deficits."

That’s not much different than historical figures.

A Congressional Research Service report in 2011 stated that foreign assistance spending represents about 3 percent of the discretionary budget authority and just over 1 percent of total budget authority each year since 1977. For the 2010 fiscal year, foreign assistance totaled $39.4 billion, or 1.1 percent of the budget,

To further complicate things, these tallies usually don't include non-traditional foreign aid, where other United States agencies engage in activities that most people would put under the category of foreign aid, such a joint research on pollution in other countries conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It is estimated that these non-traditional sources of assistance equaled about $12.6 billion" during the 2009 fiscal year, according to the CRS report. That would have raised the total actually spent on foreign aid to $47.5 billion.

Our ruling

Rubio said foreign aid "is less than 1 percent of our federal budget."

Several reports put the amount of foreign aid in the ballpark of what Rubio said at the GOP debate -- and it has been consistently in the single digits or less.

We rate this claim True.

Editor’s note: We updated this story on March 14, 2016, with additional information from the U.S. Overseas Loans & Grants database. The rating remains the same.

Our Sources


The Washington Post, "The CNN Miami Republican debate transcript, annotated," March 10, 2016

Congressional Research Service, "State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2016 Budget and Appropriations," Nov. 5, 2015, "State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2015 Budget and Appropriations," Dec. 8, 2014, and "Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy," Feb. 10, 2011, accessed March 10-11, 2016

U.S. Agency for International Development, "U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants (Greenbook)," accessed March 11, 2016

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, "United States; Net ODA," accessed at by going to the "Development finance statistics" section, and opening the  "Charts, tables and databases" area, accessed March 11, 2016

Congressional Research Service, "Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy." Feb. 10, 2011

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Fiscal FactCheck, Aug. 6, 2015

NPR, "Guess How Much Of Uncle Sam's Money Goes To Foreign Aid. Guess Again!" Feb. 11, 2015

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, "Data Note: Americans’ Views On The U.S. Role In Global Health," Jan. 23, 2015

Harvard International Review, "Foreign Aid and the 28 Percent Myth," March 11, 2015

White House, Historical tables Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal year 2016

PolitiFact, "Pie chart of 'federal spending' circulating on the Internet is misleading," Aug. 17, 2015

Washington Post The Fact Checker, "Comic blows Afghan school aid out of proportion," May 3, 2015


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Marco Rubio says foreign aid is less than 1 percent of federal budget

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