Biden administration seeks $32.5 billion more in Ukraine and COVID aid

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden's administration is seeking $32.5 billion in additional funding from Congress to bolster the U.S. COVID response and help Ukraine, the White House said on Thursday, citing two "urgent and immediate needs."

The $22.5 billion in COVID funding plus $10 billion in emergency military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine should be included in Congress' larger spending bill to fund the U.S. government expected to come by March 11, OMB Acting Director Shalanda Young said in a statement.

Previous COVID response bills have enabled Americans to get vaccinated and tested, as well as allowed donations to the world, but nearly all those funds have been used, she said.

"We are therefore urging Congress to promptly provide $22.5 billion to cover immediate needs for tests, treatments and vaccines, investments in research and development of next-generation vaccines, and responding globally, including getting more shots in arms around the world," she wrote.

The additional resources will allow the government to secure the treatments, vaccines and tests for the coming months and also to fight future variants, she said. It will also ensure the continuation of free community testing, treatment and vaccination coverage for uninsured individuals.

Young cited "an immediate need" for the aid to help Ukraine and other Central European allies in the wake of the Russian invasion last week. Those funds would help train Ukraine's military, protect its electrical grid, boost its cyberdefenses and enforce sanctions, she wrote.

The White House asked Congress to approve $6.4 billion in aid to address the humanitarian and security crisis in Ukraine the day after Russia invaded on Feb 24. Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation.”

Lawmakers had passed a so-called stopgap spending bill to fund federal agencies through next Friday and must pass another measure by then to avert a government shutdown.

The OMB said the latest funding request may not be the last.

"Given the rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine, additional needs may arise over time," Young said. Additional funding will also be needed to follow through on the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan announced on Wednesday, she said.

"There is a very strong bipartisan feeling, you know, in support of Ukraine," Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday.

However, Republicans have balked at additional funds to fight COVID-19. On Wednesday, 36 conservative U.S. senators -- including Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee -- demanded a full accounting of the money authorized so far before considering any more federal funds.

"It is not yet clear why additional funding is needed,” the senators wrote.

President Joe Biden secured a $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan" last year to fight the pandemic. But the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus helped fuel coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide. More than 90 percent of American Rescue Plan funds have been committed, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Biden's fellow Democrats control both chambers of Congress.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)