"Foreign assistance is the largest component of the international affairs budget and is viewed by many as an essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy. On the basis of national security, commercial, and humanitarian rationales, U.S. assistance flows through many federal agencies and supports myriad objectives, including promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, improving governance, expanding access to health care and education, promoting stability in conflictive regions, countering terrorism, promoting human rights, strengthening allies, and curbing illicit drug production and trafficking. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, foreign aid has increasingly been associated with national security policy. At the same time, foreign aid is seen by many Americans, and Members of Congress, as an expense that the United States cannot afford given current budget deficits. In FY2016, U.S. foreign assistance, defined broadly, was estimated at $49.47 billion, or 1.2% of total federal budget authority. About 48% of this assistance was for bilateral economic development programs, including political/strategic economic assistance; 33% for military aid and nonmilitary security assistance; 14% for humanitarian activities; and 5% to support the work of multilateral institutions. Assistance can take the form of cash transfers, equipment and commodities, infrastructure, or technical assistance, and, in recent decades, is provided almost exclusively on a grant rather than loan basis. [...] This report provides an overview of the U.S. foreign assistance program by answering frequently asked questions on the subject."
CRS Report for Congress, R40213