The Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America Raffi Hamparian recently wrote letters to both U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging them to reprogram at least $25 million in U.S. assistance to help Armenia respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ANCA’s Government Affairs Director, Tereza Yerimyan, recently spoke to Asbarez to explain the details of this request.
Asbarez: We are pleased to be interviewing you Tereza. As the Government Affairs Director for the ANCA – the point person of the organization’s legislative efforts on Capitol Hill – could you help our readers understand the ANCA’s effort to bolster American support for COVID-19 relief efforts in Armenia? As you can imagine, while all our readers want to see America do all it can to help Armenia, many of them won’t be very familiar with the legal intricacies and policy precedents related to federal authorizations, appropriations, and allocations.
Tereza Yerimyan: The most straightforward example I can share to help your readers understand what we are trying to do is the following. Imagine your readers are thinking about buying a nice new car – but on the way to the auto dealership – they learn that the roof on their house has a big leak – and it’s April – rainy season. While your readers might want to buy a new car – they all know the responsible and reasonable action is to delay that purchase and immediately repair or replace their roof. This is an example of a smart reprogramming of funds – dollars once destined for your new car are quickly repurposed for roof repair.
The same example can be applied to understand why the ANCA is urging that existing U.S. funding be reprogrammed for COVID-19 efforts in Armenia. Prior to this global pandemic, U.S. funds were going to be used for a variety of projects in Armenia – but now with the pandemic – we are arguing to urgently reprogram a portion of these funds – at least $25 million – to save lives across Armenia.
Asbarez: When you say reprogramming U.S. funding for Armenia – is the ANCA asking for new funds?
T.Y.: No, we are not asking for new funds for Armenia. We are asking that U.S. funds already appropriated by Congress last year be reprogrammed to meet three basic needs in Armenia. First, to assist the Ministry of Health in Armenia with their urgent efforts to contain the pandemic and bend the curve in Armenia. Second, to use these funds to enhance data collection to slow the spread of COVID-19 across the country. And third, we are eager for these U.S. funds to be used to help the large number of impoverished people in Armenia – who are being financially devastated by this pandemic.
Asbarez: How large is the U.S. aid program for Armenia this year?
T.Y.: Thanks to the efforts of Congresswoman Jackie Speier and thousands of ANCA Rapid Responders across the nation – Congress acted last year to boost funding to Armenia by over $40 million dollars. Specifically, in June of last year, Congresswoman Speier offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 Foreign Aid bill to bolster aid to Armenia. Thankfully – with the great efforts of Congresswoman Speier and the backing of the ANCA’s grassroots supporters – the Speier amendment was adopted by a vote of 268 to 152.
Asbarez: Thank you for that clarification about U.S. aid levels for Armenia. Is it true that Congresswoman Speier recently commented about the wisdom of reprogramming funding U.S. aid to Armenia?
T.Y.: Yes, she did. At a recent San Francisco/Bay Area tele-townhall meeting the Congresswoman responded to a question on reprogramming Armenia aid from longtime ANCA leader Roxanne Makasdjian. Specifically, the Congresswoman made the following remark on reprogramming funding – “The effort to redirect some of the $40 million that I was able to get into the budget for this fiscal year, is something that we will certainly pursue and it makes all the sense in the world, when you are in a pandemic like this, what’s the most urgent need? The urgent need is to provide care to those who are sick, to prevent those from getting sick, and certainly to test those who may or may not be exposed.”
Asbarez: Has the U.S. Government shared any COVID-19 assistance with Armenia to date?
T.Y.: Yes, the U.S. sent $1.1 million dollars to Armenia as part of a global package focused on certain countries. Most recently, the U.S. shared an additional $600,000 to address issues related to the pandemic in Armenia. In contrast, the European Union is delivering over 90 million Euros to Armenia to address immediate and short term needs related to the pandemic.
Asbarez: Thank you Tereza for your responses and for distilling this federal policy matter and sharing the nuts and bolts of the ANCA’s work in this area.
T.Y.: I very much appreciated our dialogue on this issue. If any of your readers would like to know more about the ANCA’s efforts to reprogram $25 million in U.S. aid to help with Armenia’s COVID-19 efforts – I would encourage them to visit our website at www.anca.org or find the information on our twitter handle, on Facebook, or via Instagram.