Republican senators push for faster spending of Ukraine funds

Republican senators are urging the Biden administration to move more quickly to spend funds authorized to blunt the global toll of the war in Ukraine, singling out the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid as a major bottleneck.

Nine senators, including the ranking Republicans on the chamber’s Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, urged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to spend humanitarian aid funds totaling $7 billion allocated in two aid packages related to the war in Ukraine.

Seeking to assist Kyiv following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion and mitigate the global effects of the war, Congress has passed several large packages, including funds for defense, trade and humanitarian activities, in part directed at helping refugees and stanching widespread food insecurity.

“We are worried … that the American people’s generosity is not being properly and swiftly used to help Ukraine,” the senators said in a Sept. 9 letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power. “These extraordinary Congressional appropriations must be quickly and effectively mobilized to address the unfolding crisis.”

The letter said that as of this month USAID had allocated 73 percent of the first aid package toward specific activities or items, and 50 percent of the second, leaving nearly $3 billion unallocated.

The lawmakers, led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), say that USAID has relied too heavily on the United Nations to deliver needed aid, and cited a staffing shortfall in USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, which they said had “the equivalent of four and a half full-time contracting officers overseeing billions of taxpayer dollars.”

They said requests for USAID to work through a more diversified group of aid organizations and accelerate food aid deliveries had not been adequately answered.

After the conflict erupted, Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports and spiraling inflation intensified food insecurity worldwide, with particular problems in places including the Horn of Africa. A Turkish-brokered deal to resume grain exports in July has provided some relief.

On Tuesday, a USAID spokesperson, speaking on the condition of anonymity under rules set by the agency, said the United States had provided almost $7.6 billion in global food security aid since the war began and was working to distribute a major “scale up” of aid levels in recent months.

The spokesperson said that USAID had decided to hold back some money into 2023 to ensure continued funding and make sure that, if additional supplemental funds are not provided again, the agency has the resources to help those in need.

“This will be a long-term crisis,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We have to be prudent in our planning to ensure that we have enough funding to address emergency needs over at least the next six months.”

The lawmakers requested that USAID provide a detailed plan for spending the remaining money, asking that no more than a quarter of funds allotted for Ukraine be held over for the subsequent year. They also asked USAID for a staffing plan for contracting officers to match workloads to their staff.

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