Washington - On Monday, President Bush submitted his budget request for FY2009, which included $743 million in development assistance for the Western Hemisphere.

That figure represents a $37 million cut from the funding provided for 2008. While the President requested $116 million more for the Development Assistance account, other funding, including funds from the Child Survival and Health Account would drop significantly.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, was encouraged by some elements of the budget request but felt that on the whole, it fell short.

"Putting more emphasis on development assistance is definitely the right move," said Sen. Menendez. "But that boost shouldn't come at the expense of child health programs, and shouldn't be used to mask a broader cut in the assistance we give to our neighbors.

"If we're going to get serious about tackling common problems like drug trafficking, mass migration and environmental degradation, we have to address their root causes, namely poverty and entrenched inequality. That requires a stronger commitment."

Menendez has authored and introduced a bill, the Social Investment and Economic Development Act for the Americas, to combat poverty and inequality in the Western Hemisphere. The legislation would provide $2.5 billion over ten years for a combination of basic development programs targeting health care and education, and economic development programs such as workforce training and microfinance. That funding would combine with matching funds from the private sector and member countries of the Inter-American Development Bank. Democrats and Republicans from both houses of Congress have expressed support for the legislation.