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Biden wants more COVID relief funds. The GOP wants to know where previous relief went

President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Updated March 3, 2022 at 6:50 PM ET

The White House has asked Congress to approve an additional $22.5 billion to support the nation's pandemic response.

But Republicans in the deeply divided Senate have said they would not authorize additional funding until the White House was able to account for the trillions of dollars Congress has approved thus far.

In a letter dated Wednesday, the Office of Management and Budget said it needs money to bolster ongoing relief efforts. That includes $18.25 billion to go to the Department of Health and Human Services and $4.25 billion to go to the State Department and United States Agency for International Development.

The White House request comes as President Biden says the United States is ready to move into a new phaseof the pandemic with looser restrictions than had been deployed in the early days of COVID.

States across the country and across the political spectrum have rolled back mandates, including on indoor mask usage and social distancing requirements, and Biden has expressed optimism the nation is headed in the right direction when it comes to the pandemic.

"Because of the progress we've made, because of your resilience and the tools we have, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines," Biden said on Tuesday.

Republicans want to know more about past COVID spending

Responding to reports of the White House's funding push, Republican senators balked, requesting that Biden give a full accounting of how previous monies had been spent before they would consider authorizing additional funds.

Led by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a group of 35 Republican senators — a plurality of their 50 votes in the chamber — penned a letter to the White House requesting an accounting of the trillions previously allotted to the nation's pandemic relief.

"Since passage of the American Rescue Plan in February, questions are mounting about where exactly the additional money has gone," the GOP letter said.

"Before we would consider supporting an additional $30 billion for COVID-19 relief, Congress must receive a full accounting of how the government has already spent the first $6 trillion," the senators wrote.

The senators outlined six questions they said needed to be answered before they would consider greenlighting additional funds. They want to know, for example, the purpose of additional funding; how much of the funding made available under the American Rescue Plan remains unspent; how much money has been spent on vaccines and testing; and if the administration make available to the public real-time data about all COVID-19 spending.

The White House says the winter COVID surge drained coffers

The White House says the administration has already spent the portion of the American Rescue Plan that Congress designated for vaccines, treatments, tests and masks.

That money "supported our forceful response to the surge in infections and hospitalizations caused by the omicron variant, as well as the earlier surge resulting from the delta variant. But those demands have largely exhausted existing funds," said Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a letter to congressional leaders.

She said the new request would go to "immediate needs to avoid disruption to ongoing COVID response efforts over the next few months."

Other parts of the American Rescue Plan were aimed at economic support for states and local governments, funding that had a longer timetable for spending.

The White House also requested $10 billion to help Ukraine and counter Russia

In the same request, the White House asked for an extra $10 billion to help counter "Russia's unjustified and unprovoked invasion." This is in addition to $1.4 billion in relief the U.S. has provided since last year.

"Given the rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine, I anticipate that additional needs may arise over time," Young said in the letter. "This funding request is based on the Administration's best information on resource requirements at this time, and we will remain in touch with the Congress in the coming weeks and months as we assess resource requirements beyond these immediate needs."

That request breaks down as:

  • $5 billion to the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development for emergency economic and food aid to Ukraine, and help with refugees fleeing the country.
  • $4.8 billion to the Defense Department to help pay for U.S. troops in NATO's eastern flank, enhanced cyber capabilities and defense equipment.
  • $91 million to the Treasury Department to help its efforts to enforce sanctions.
  • $59 million to the Justice Department to support its new task force investigating Russian oligarchs.
  • $30 million for the Energy Department to help Ukraine connect to the European electrical grid.
  • $21 million for the Commerce Department to help enforce new export controls on technology exports to Russia.
  • Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Alana Wise
    Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.

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