Leahy Statement On The Emergency Supplemental Funding For Ukraine And Global Food Aid

The horrors we have witnessed in the weeks and months following Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine are an abomination and an affront to all civilized people.  Entire communities wiped from the face of the earth.  Countless lives ruined.  Unarmed civilians summarily executed randomly in the street.  Millions of desperate people fleeing everything they have ever known because of one man’s zeal to destroy whatever is necessary to realize his own twisted vision of the world.  All of this while fueling a broader humanitarian crisis across the region, spiraling costs, and sparking a global hunger crisis. 

The need is clear for this Congress to act decisively and to act now to reaffirm our unwavering support for the Ukrainian people in protecting their lives and their country, and to stem this global crisis.  The United States stands against the atrocities inflicted upon the free people of Ukraine, an independent country with a democratically elected government. 

Last Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 7691, providing more than $40 billion in emergency funding, with overwhelming bipartisan support.  The Senate should have done the same, sending this bill to the President so that he could immediately execute on it and get this much-needed aid into Ukrainian hands.  Unfortunately, one member has decided to slow this process down.   One member has caused needless delay.  In a few moments we will vote to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 7691.  Because of Senator Paul’s objection, we must go through this step just to bring up the bill for debate.  I urge everyone to vote yes.  And I would urge the Senator from Kentucky to reconsider his objections and help us move quickly to get this bill to the President.  

This emergency bill provides $40.1 billion – $7.1 billion more than the administration requested – in critical military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, to help defend democracy abroad, and to address the rising, global hunger crisis that the world is facing in large part due to Russia’s aggression.   

This includes $8.5 billion in additional presidential drawdown authority for critical weapons transfers, and $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.  This will allow us to continue to supply the Ukrainians with the tools they need to defend themselves, their country, and their freedom.  The urgent need for these resources cannot be overstated.  As we stand here today, the administration is raising the alarm that if we do not act, the resources we provided in March – which have been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield – will be exhausted in a matter of days. 

It includes more than $8.5 billion for the Economic Support Fund to respond to emerging needs in the country and ensure the continuing operation of the government.  It provides needed resources for temporary housing, medical care, food, and other basic services for Ukrainian’s displaced in their own country and refugees fleeing the violence and devastation Vladimir Putin has inflicted on them and their communities. 

The humanitarian crisis instigated at the hands of Vladimir Putin is not limited to within Ukraine’s borders or even within the borders of Eastern Europe.  It has triggered a global hunger crisis.  Last year, before Putin’s war, Ukraine grew enough food to feed 400 million people.  Today, Ukraine cannot even feed its own people.  As David Beasley, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), testified before the Appropriations Committee last week, war has forced Ukraine from being a global bread basket to being on the bread lines. 

Tens of millions of tons of wheat, barley, maize, vegetable oil and other Ukrainian produce are currently locked in warehouses and languishing in ports occupied by Russian forces.  If the ports are not opened, this food will either be stolen or go to waste, leading to skyrocketing prices and regional shortages.  The WFP estimates that this will have a ripple effect, increasing the number facing acute hunger by 47 million.  This would bring the estimated global total to 323 million people suffering from acute hunger in the 81 countries WFP operates in alone.

It is important to remember that hunger is not a moment in time – it has lasting consequences for families, communities, and whole societies.  This is why we cannot wait to act on this crisis.  As noted in one recent Washington Post editorial:  preventing a looming, global famine is “as urgent and morally necessary as sending tanks to Ukraine.” 

This bill provides over $5 billion for global food aid.  If those funds are programmed quickly they will save millions of lives.

Vladimir Putin’s war is exacerbating a global crisis of food insecurity already set in motion by the COVID pandemic and successive years of severe drought in Africa.  I am extremely disappointed that this bill does not include new resources to address the ongoing COVID pandemic.

Last week, we passed the grim toll of one million recorded COVID deaths in our country, and estimates as high as 20 million deaths worldwide.  If we fail to prepare for anticipated surges in the fall and winter, as immunity from existing vaccines wanes and the virus continues to mutate, the death toll will rise, potentially exponentially. 

For months – for months – the administration has warned that we do not have the necessary vaccines, therapeutics, tests and other resources to stay ahead of this virus.  We do not have enough funding to purchase new shots for everybody in the fall, and we already will be forced to ration the next generation of vaccines – more suited to variants like Omicron – to only those at the highest risk. 

This is not a problem that can be solved by flipping a switch.  We cannot just say that we will appropriate the money later in the fall if it is needed.  In order to produce the tens of millions of doses of vaccine that will be necessary, biotech companies need to begin to purchase supplies and start production before July.  This means we only have weeks to provide the funding to secure these shots in time. 

The same can be said of our testing capacity.  Unless we act, domestic manufacturing will continue to shut down, shifting production to countries like China.  This will leave us flat-footed once again should another COVID variant wave crash over our country in the fall.

The virus traveled to this country from abroad, and that is where new variants have also originated.  The U.S. Agency for International Development, which manages our global response to the COVID pandemic, has obligated 95 percent of the funds they have available.  They are running on fumes, and they will have no choice but to start shutting down their vaccine delivery operations if additional funds are not forthcoming soon.  That means more mutations, more variants, more infections, and more death. 

It is extremely frustrating that time and again members on the other side of the aisle have pushed this responsibility off.  We are out of time.  We cannot defeat this virus with complacency or by burying our heads in the sand.  It remains a global health emergency.  According to the experts, it is entirely possible that we have not seen the worst yet.  As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee I will continue to fight for these urgently needed resources in the coming weeks.  

However, the people of Ukraine and the millions facing acute food insecurity require the funds in this bill today, and I strongly urge the Senate to pass it without further delay. 

# # # # #