The Biden administration is seeking tens of billions of dollars in emergency funds as part of the upcoming short-term spending bill lawmakers will take up this month, ranging from more military aid to Ukraine to heating and cooling assistance for low-income households.
Administration officials laid out the new requests, totaling $47.1 billion, on Friday ahead of the long Labor Day weekend. Congress reconvenes next week to start working on stopgap funding legislation on which President Joe Biden's signature is required before Oct. 1 in order to avert a partial government shutdown.
The largest individual piece of the White House proposal seeks $22.4 billion to cover ongoing needs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young said in a blog post that additional funds are needed to restart a suspended program that sent free at-home testing kits to U.S. households and help prepare for a "potential fall surge." Of the COVID-19 request, $18.4 billion would go to the Department of Health and Human Services and $4 billion would support global efforts to contain and treat the pandemic.
Republicans have blocked additional supplemental funds for COVID-19 response efforts, including a $10 billion installment earlier this year, arguing unspent pandemic aid should be repurposed instead. The administration ended up taking the $10 billion from other pots of money.
"As we've been clear with members of Congress for months, every dollar of COVID response is either obligated, being executed or planned for specific purposes,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on a conference call. “If they do not give us the funding we have asked for it will force us to make very difficult trade-offs and pull from existing planned uses to meet the needs of the American people.”
The administration is also seeking $4.5 billion to battle the spread of the monkeypox virus, with $600 million of that total devoted to international efforts.
Ukraine would receive $11.7 billion under the White House proposal, with $7.2 billion in military aid — including for replenishment of U.S. weapons and equipment stocks sent to help combat Russian aggression — and $4.5 billion in direct budget support to the Ukrainian government. Young said about two-thirds of previously appropriated funds have been spent, with the remainder expected to run out by the end of September.
"We have rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their democracy and we cannot allow that support to Ukraine to run dry," Young wrote in her blog post.
A separate $2 billion is intended to offset domestic energy cost increases as a result of the Ukraine conflict, including funds to purchase uranium for U.S. nuclear reactors and to shore up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the administration has been tapping to help ease gasoline price rises.
Finally, the White House is calling on Congress to attach $6.5 billion in emergency disaster assistance as communities across the country continue to cope with the aftermath of floods, hurricanes, drought and more.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's main disaster relief fund would get $2.9 billion to help with short-term needs arising from recent flooding in Kentucky and other disasters that may strike early in the next fiscal year. The Agriculture Department would get $1.9 billion to provide direct payments to farmers and ranchers who've lost crops and livestock. And the Department of Housing and Urban Development would receive $1.4 billion in longer-term recovery funding for disasters that struck last year in Louisiana, California and Texas.
The proposal also asks lawmakers to add $500 million for low-income heating and cooling assistance as households cope with higher utility prices and $150 million to help "improve the resilience of the electric grid."
An administration official said the funding proposals shouldn't require offsets and are similar to items funded by members of both parties previously. "This is emergency funding and we believe Congress should provide it that way again," he said.
As part of the White House requests to Capitol Hill, administration officials also laid out what special adjustments to regular spending, known as "anomalies," would be required as part of the continuing resolution, or CR.
The House is writing a bill that's expected to extend programmatic funds generally at current-year spending rates through Dec. 16. But in many cases the current funding level will be outdated, fall short of what agencies say their most critical needs are and prevent new projects from getting started during the period they are operating under the stopgap measure. The White House is also seeking several legislative changes in certain programs' authorizations.
"This package of technical assistance provides guidance to lawmakers on funding and legislative adjustments that are necessary to avoid disruptions to a range of important public services," Young wrote in her blog post.
Provisions sought by the White House include a package of changes intended to pave the way for Afghan nationals "paroled" into the U.S. to obtain green cards as well as continue to receive benefits such as resettlement assistance and access to food stamps and Medicaid.
Other anomalies include changes that would make available higher rates of funding for FEMA's diaster aid account and to help the agency provide emergency food and shelter for migrants entering the U.S. at the southern border. At the same time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be able to spend more on detention, transportation and removal "driven by emerging needs along the southern border."
The Transportation Security Administration would get a higher rate of funding for airport staffing, without which the administration estimates a "high risk" of increased wait times for passengers this upcoming holiday season as well as safety problems.
Other provisions requested would:
- Appropriate $1.8 billion for HHS to help care for unaccompanied children crossing the border, citing among other needs an "increased number of Cuban entrants."
- Provide the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention $3 million to replenish a fund it uses to inspect cruise ships in order to control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses.
- Establish a waiver for aid caps that would take effect and cut off funds for the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor and the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.
- Extend by an extra year statutory authorities that provide "physical protection and personal security" for two years to former Pentagon officials after they leave the agency.
Lawmakers will decide whether to include those and other requested anomalies during the next few weeks as the House takes up its short-term stopgap bill, which will need 60 votes to clear the evenly divided Senate. Congress hasn't acted on any of the 12 fiscal 2023 spending bills, and the CR is intended to buy time to get through the midterm campaign's home stretch and into the lame duck session to wrap up the year's legislative business.
Peter Cohn contributed to this report.