How many of you heard the President’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017 came out on February 9?  Maybe you read a news story about it or saw something about it on television.  Perhaps you are on an email list of an organization that praised or criticized an aspect of the budget, or you saw stories in your social media feeds.

Whether you know all, none, or some of the details of the President’s budget, what you should know is how much the budget and how the spending of taxpayer dollars matters to you and the issues you care about.  Most importantly, you should know how you can be a part of influencing where this money is spent.

The President’s budget is a massive document–spanning every federal agency and department, this year allocating how $4.1 trillion (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”) should be spent.  The budget goes to Congress, who now takes those recommendations, and weighs them against their own priorities.  This is a process that will consume the next several months, with Congress hearing directly from federal agency heads about how and where they will spend their budget, and then putting together bills that specify set the dollar amounts for each office and program.

So you might be asking, $4.1 trillion is a lot of money.  Where is that really going?  Well it is funding for things like our military, public schools and national parks.  It’s funding for federal courts, NASA, the U.S. Postal Service and health care for veterans.  It’s funding for a lot of things you probably care about and see and use in your daily lives.  But a little fraction of that $4.1 trillion – less than 1 percent – goes to help feed, clothe, educate and provide health services to the poor around the world.  This is what we call “foreign assistance.”  It’s funding that goes to partners of the U.S. Government – partners like World Vision – to carry out the work that provides life-saving services and helps lift children and their families out of poverty.

As you can imagine, the discussions around the budget and appropriations can be a time consuming and complicated process.  But what you might not imagine is that it’s a process you can influence.  As the branch of the government with the “power of the purse” under the Constitution, Congress has the role of appropriating how money is spent for the national government.  But Congress is also accountable to its constituents – you – and it’s easy for you to tell them how you think they should wield this power.

One of the ways Members of Congress can influence spending priorities is by communicating those priorities to the Appropriations Committee that makes the final decision.  Members have the ability to weigh into this process to highlight what they most care about or to highlight what their constituents care about – what you care about.  Often, this takes the form of a letter that they send either on their own or with others.  These “sign on” letters are a critical part of the process in deciding where money should go.  The more Members that signal that they care about or support a particular program, the more attention it will get from the final decision-makers.

We’ll be coming back to you soon with some opportunities for you to ask your Member of Congress to sign on to these important letters, so stay tuned for more ways you can be a voice and an advocate for children!

Photo: Twenty-four-year-old Harriet Adong holding some orange flesh sweet potato tubers. For nearly 105,000 families in northern Uganda, the Vitamin A rich potato has become a source of food security and income. Funded by World Vision and USAID. © 2015 World Vision/ photo by Simon Peter Esaku

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