According to public opinion surveys, a majority of Americans believe too much of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. But most Americans overestimate what the share really is. A 2016 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that respondents estimated foreign aid to constitute 26% of the federal budget on average, but in reality, foreign assistance typically makes up less than 1% of federal spending.
Still, the U.S. gives more money in foreign aid in total dollars than any other country in the world, distributing more than $530 billion globally between 2012 and 2021. In 2021 alone – the most recent year for which data is complete – the U.S. gave foreign countries about $52.4 billion.
Foreign aid obligations by the U.S. include both economic support – which includes humanitarian spending – and military support. The aid can range anywhere from counterterrorism initiatives funded by the Department of State to programs combating HIV/AIDS funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. A website run by the State Department and USAID, ForeignAssistance.gov, tracks international aid from a large number of U.S. government agencies.
In 2021, military aid accounted for 12.5% of all foreign aid spending, a much smaller share than the 23% it accounted for in 2020. Meanwhile, economic assistance made up about 87.5%, much higher than its 77% in 2020.
U.S. Aid to Israel and Ukraine
In 2021 the U.S. gave more than $3.3 billion to Israel, 11% of the year’s entire distribution to specific countries. That year, Israel received more than twice the amount seen by any other country, and nearly all of it was designated as military aid. Ranked by total aid received in 2021, Israel was followed by Jordan ($1.6 billion), Afghanistan ($1.40 billion), Ethiopia ($1.39 billion) and Egypt ($1.29 billion).
Preliminary data for 2022 indicates that Ukraine will be the top recipient of aid in 2022, having received nearly $12 billion from the U.S. that year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
While countries involved in ongoing conflicts receive significant amounts of military aid, categorized as governance funding, countries in Africa typically receive a significant portion of humanitarian aid, and aid for health and infrastructure.
While Israel far surpassed all countries for 2021 aid in the “governance” category, which accounts for the vast majority of obligated military aid, countries such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia received the highest amounts earmarked for humanitarian assistance.
Foreign aid obligations may be distributed in the year in which they are obligated, or in the future, but funds must be available before any obligation is made.
Several countries, including the U.S., are members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, meaning they give “official development assistance” to developing countries. While the U.S. provides the largest donor of development assistance worldwide by strict dollar amount, it is surpassed when this aid is measured as a percentage of a country’s gross national income, or GNI, which measures a country’s gross domestic product plus the income it receives from its companies or citizens abroad. By that measure, Luxembourg gave 1% of its GNI and topped the list in 2022, followed by Sweden (0.9%), Norway (0.9%), Germany (0.8%) and Denmark (0.7%). Meanwhile, the U.S. gave 0.22% of its GNI in official development assistance, ranking No. 26 on the list.
Currently, preliminary data for 2022 indicates U.S. foreign aid could spike up to its highest value in more than 50 years, reaching $66 billion for the first time since 1949.
Countries That Received the Most Foreign Aid From the U.S. in 2021:
- Israel ($3.3B)
- Jordan ($1.6B)
- Afghanistan ($1.4B)
- Ethiopia ($1.39B)
- Egypt ($1.29B)
- Yemen ($1.04B)
- South Sudan ($954M)
- Congo (Kinshasa) ($825M)
- Somalia ($790M)
- Syria ($782M)