President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 7, 2023, in the Oval Office of the White House, about the Canadian wild fires and the smoke blanketing parts of the U.S. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is asking Congress to approve more than $40 billion in additional spending for Ukraine, border security, FEMA’s disaster response and wildland firefighters pay.
The supplemental spending request comes in the middle of Congress’ annual August recess, giving lawmakers weeks to mull over the proposal for additional spending before returning to Capitol Hill.
The request asks for $24 billion for several types of aid to Ukraine, $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $4 billion to address immigration and border security and $60 million to extend a boost to wildland firefighter pay.
President Joe Biden on Thursday approved a disaster declaration for Hawaii after wildfires burned through large swaths of Maui this week, forcing people to flee into the ocean and killing at least 36.
White House budget director Shalanda Young, in a letter, urged Congress “to take swift action to provide the additional funding requested to follow-through on our commitment to the Ukrainian peoples’ defense of their homeland and to democracy around the world; to address the shortfall for disaster response and adequately support our wildland firefighters; and to combat fentanyl smuggling and continue our progress in responding to the humanitarian and border security situation at the United States Southwest border.”
The request, released Thursday, will likely get a lukewarm reception from House Republicans, who have been critical about overall government spending and providing additional support for Ukraine.
Senate Republicans, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, are expected to be more open to considering additional military and humanitarian aid to help bolster democracy in Eastern Europe. But it’s unclear how they may respond to the other funding requests.
McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said in December that assisting Ukraine was “morally right” and “a direct investment in cold, hard American interests.” He reiterated that support Wednesday during a lunch with business leaders in Louisville.
U.S. help for Ukraine now at $110B
Congress so far has approved four aid packages for Ukraine that included military, economic and humanitarian assistance, bringing total U.S. funding for Ukraine since the war began to more than $110 billion.
The funding has gone to various U.S. agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, Agency for International Development and Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The first aid package, approved in March 2022, included $13.6 billion. The second assistance package, approved in May 2022, provided $40 billion. The third relief package, approved in September 2022, approved more than $12 billion. The fourth supplemental package, approved in December 2022, appropriated $45 billion.
Deputy Defense Department spokesperson Sabrina Singh said during a press briefing Tuesday before the White House requested additional funding that the Pentagon still had at least $6 billion in what’s referred to as presidential drawdown authority for additional military assistance to Ukraine.
“That is still a substantial amount and we feel confident that we can continue to supply Ukraine with what it needs on the battlefield,” Singh said, declining to speculate about a supplemental request for additional funding.
Funding deadline approaching
The first opportunity for Congress to provide additional aid will likely be the end of September, when U.S. lawmakers must pass a government funding bill, or begin a partial shutdown on Oct. 1 when the next fiscal year begins.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, will have to decide before then if he is going to back the request and move it through the chamber, or reject the supplemental spending proposal.
Seventy members of the House GOP voted just last month to prohibit additional security assistance for Ukraine. The show of opposition from nearly one-third of House Republicans was in response to an amendment from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz that wasn’t added to the annual defense policy bill following a 70-358 vote.
The more conservative members of the Republican Party are unlikely to back any additional spending.
Details on Ukraine, border funds
The Biden administration’s Ukraine aid request asks Congress to provide $13.1 billion for the U.S. Defense Department, $8.5 billion for the U.S. State Department and USAID, $2.3 billion for the U.S. Treasury Department, $100 million for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and $68 million for the U.S. Energy Department.
“As the impacts of Russia’s war reverberate around the globe, the United States is committed to maintaining strong global opposition to Russia’s illegal war,” Young wrote.
The Ukraine aid would last through the end of the calendar year, according to a senior administration official, who said the White House wouldn’t be “bashful about going back to Congress beyond” then to ask for additional funding.
The border security and immigration requests ask U.S. lawmakers to provide $2.65 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, $800 million for the State Department and USAID, $350 million for HHS, $100 million for the Labor Department and $59 million for the Justice Department.
Young wrote to Congress the administration is seeking the funding to “continue to manage the Southwest border safely and effectively, including through ongoing efforts to reduce the influx of illicit drugs, such as fentanyl, across our borders and counter the threat these substances pose to our public health.”
FEMA disaster relief fund faces deficit
The $12 billion request for FEMA would go to its disaster relief fund, which FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell told a U.S. House subcommittee last month would begin to run out of money as soon as this month.
FEMA’s latest report on its disaster relief fund, released this week, shows that the account will run a $4 billion deficit by the end of September. FEMA has not responded to multiple requests from States Newsroom this week asking the agency to explain how it plans to address disaster response over the next couple of months.
Young wrote in the letter requesting the additional funding that during the past two years “a third of Americans have been personally affected by extreme weather conditions.”
“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, catastrophic weather and climate disasters in the United States caused more than $170.5 billion in damages last year alone,” Young wrote.
The Biden administration’s request for additional funding for wildland firefighters asks Congress to provide $45 million for the Agriculture Department and $15 million for the Interior Department.
Young wrote that if Congress doesn’t take action on wildland firefighter pay “more than 200,000 heroic firefighters would face a pay cliff starting as soon as October, with salaries being cut to as low as $15 an hour.”
A senior administration official said Thursday the White House believes there is a “bipartisan understanding of the need to provide firefighter pay to prevent the cliff that results due to the… exhaustion of bipartisan infrastructure law funds.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat said in a written statement, he expects there to be “strong bipartisan support in the Senate for doing more to help our fellow citizens impacted by natural disasters, fight the scourge of fentanyl, and support our partners in Ukraine.”
“The latest request from the Biden administration shows America’s continued commitment to helping Americans here at home and our friends abroad; and should send a clear signal to Vladimir Putin, the Chinese government, and others of America’s resolve when it comes to defending democracy around the world,” Schumer said. “We hope to join with our Republican colleagues this fall to avert an unnecessary government shutdown and fund this critical emergency supplemental request.”
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