The Biden administration has yet to deliver more than $2.8 billion in humanitarian aid to Ukraine, fueling concerns in Congress that the administration is undermining its own relief efforts as Russia pummels the country.
Congress fast-tracked some $7 billion dollars in recent months to help the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spearhead humanitarian projects in Ukraine. But as of this month, nearly $3 billion of that money remains unspent. A group of Republican senators are demanding an explanation from USAID as to why a substantial portion of the money they appropriated is sitting in limbo, according to a letter sent to the agency on Friday and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The seven Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), say they are worried "the American people’s generosity is not being properly and swiftly used to help Ukraine," according to the letter. "These extraordinary congressional appropriations must be quickly and effectively mobilized to address the unfolding crisis."
The administration’s "over reliance" on United Nations agencies involved in humanitarian relief efforts has "been compounded by the fact that USAID only has the equivalent of four and a half full-time contracting officers overseeing billions of taxpayer dollars through the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance." This has led to bureaucratic delays and prevented the full tranche of aid dollars from reaching Ukraine.
The senators are demanding USAID and the State Department, both of which oversee aid projects, provide them with a "detailed strategy" to quickly offload the remaining aid dollars to those Ukrainians who need it. They also want USAID’s Humanitarian Assistance Bureau to explain why so few workers are tasked with handling these time-sensitive matters.
Congress, at the administration's request, suspended normal procedures to allocate the $7 billion in humanitarian aid via two separate packages. Information obtained by the lawmakers shows that USAID has only obligated 73.78 percent of the funds made available in the first package, and just 50.03 percent of the funds made available in the second. This accounts for the $2.8 billion that remains unspent.
"While USAID has made positive progress in recent months on the speed of committing and obligating these aid dollars, more needs to be done," Ernst and her colleagues write.
Both USAID and the State Department have ignored congressional calls for the aid money to be more quickly distributed.
"Repeated, bipartisan calls for the Department of State and USAID to onboard new nongovernmental organization partners, fast-track the delivery of food aid, and augment [USAID’s] contracting capacity have remained unanswered," the lawmakers say.
While Congress has done its part by giving the Biden administration all of the money it requested, the delay in offloading these funds threatens to interrupt on-the-ground humanitarian efforts.
"Supporting Ukrainians as they fight to expel Russia from their territory, averting a global humanitarian crisis, and preventing mass starvation are all urgent missions, and Congress has stepped up to the plate by providing billions of dollars in emergency funding," the letter states. "The fiscal and programmatic effectiveness of the U.S. response must improve."
The senators say they will continue to press USAID on the issue until "every dollar appropriated" by Congress is "put to work to protect our vital national security interests. This includes continued oversight to ensure that the appropriated aid is effectively and speedily delivered to mitigate the global humanitarian crisis."