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We at IJM are thrilled about the introduction in the Senate of S.553, the End Modern Slavery Initiative (EMSI.) Thanks to the leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), EMSI quickly collected bipartisan support in the Senate and was reported out of the Committee unanimously in February. We’re happy to report that 18 Senators are co-sponsors. Many of them heard directly from anti-slavery activists in their states in support of the bill.
We expect that EMSI will be enacted by the Senate within the year, either as a free-standing bill or attached to another initiative. In the meantime, we need a companion initiative in the House so that we can continue to gather support from Congress and build momentum for this historic legislation. One of the challenges in getting a House companion legislation introduced is that under current House rules, any proposed new funding must be “offset” by taking the same amount away from some other federally-funded program. EMSI authorizes $250 million over seven years. That money has to be carved out of some other initiative that is underspent or being spent inefficiently.
We in the anti-slavery movement have been reluctant to talk about offsets. None of us wants to propose funding our priorities at the expense of others. I’d oppose, for example, offsetting EMSI with funds authorized to combat the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, or funding for clean water, child nutrition or a host of other things I care about. The same goes for every single Member of Congress. They all have priorities, and identifying an offset for EMSI is a difficult process in order to not alienate potential supporters.
Virtually every conversation I have had with friendly legislative aides in the House ends up the same way: the House won’t pass a bill with new money unless it is offset from some other account. The U.S. Government authorizes upwards of $50 billion per year in foreign assistance – some of which is underspent or spent inefficiently. Surely we can find $36 million per year for an initiative that will pool public and private money and deal a mortal wound to slavery in our lifetimes by requiring measurable outcomes.
If EMSI is authorized and funded, hundreds of thousands of children, men and women will be freed from slavery and thousands of slave owners will be prosecuted and jailed. That’s a legacy that would make any – and every – member of the Senate and House of Representatives very proud.