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How the U.S. aid to Ukraine is taking shape

Pallets of aid to Ukraine are stacked behind Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) as they speak with reporters after returning from their trip to Kyiv, Ukraine, and meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on April 25, 2022, in Poland near the Ukraine border.
ALEX BRANDON
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POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Pallets of aid to Ukraine are stacked behind Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) and Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) as they speak with reporters after returning from their trip to Kyiv, Ukraine, and meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on April 25, 2022, in Poland near the Ukraine border.

Updated May 11, 2022 at 1:53 PM ET

Congress is preparing a $39.8 billion package to maintain U.S. support for Ukraine, the latest round of funding for a bipartisan effort to help the country repel Russia's invasion without committing U.S. troops to a deadly war.

The House of Representatives approved a package on Tuesday that is nearly $7 billion more than what President Biden formally requested to supplement the roughly $13.6 billion Congress had already approved for the war in March. The Senate is expected to quickly approve it and send it on for Biden's signature.

The largest part of the package, which could change as it makes its way through Congress, is dedicated to military and security. The money is supposed to last through Sept. 30, according to the draft. Top aides and lawmakers say their goal is for the latest round of funding to give the administration appropriate flexibility to meet the needs on the ground in Ukraine until then.

Experts say that breaks down to roughly $100 million per day in funding for a range of help, from food aid and refugee assistance to counter-propaganda efforts and military equipment.

Congress quickly approved funds in March as emergency spending with broad guidelines for dividing the money between military, operational and humanitarian aid. Biden on Monday said that flow of assistance would stop in roughly 10 days. Now, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is promising speedy action on the next round of funds, saying "the need is great and time is of the essence."

"We have a moral obligation to stand with our friends in Ukraine," Schumer said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "The fight they are in is a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism itself, and we dare not relent or delay swift action to help our friends in need."

While there has been broad bipartisan support for the spending so far, some lawmakers are raising concerns about making sure the aid is directly tailored to Ukraine's needs.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, said the United States is sending funds to the country at a rate that hasn't been seen in decades.

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"Before the war the U.S. was sending $300 million per year to Ukraine," he said. "Now, we're providing $100 million a day."

Cancian said that comparing the spending on helping Ukraine to the price tag of other recent conflicts is nearly impossible because the United States — like its allies — is sending money directly to one side of the conflict without committing any troops. Recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also involved thousands of troops and money for a vast U.S. military presence in the region.

Sending aid without troops and administrators can be risky

Experts and lawmakers say sending money and supplies without also sending fully trained troops to manage them carries some risk. Ukrainian troops are being flooded with military equipment from several different countries, all with different training procedures, operations and uses.

Humanitarian organizations face similar concerns. Groups are rushing to help find housing for refugees, send food to embattled regions and rush medical aid to those under attack. Some Republicans have raised concerns that the groups administering that support haven't been able to keep up with the supplies they are being sent.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said it is important to make sure the money is meeting what Ukraine needs in the moment.

"Their burn rate with lethal aid has been high, as long as we're providing them what they actually need and can use," Ernst said. "And then when it comes to humanitarian supplies, we need to make sure it's what they can use in the specific areas that need it."

Others, like Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., shared similar questions ahead of a meeting with Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, on Tuesday.

"I don't have any concern at all about the military funding," Blunt said. "I am concerned that we are sure that they can handle that much aid."

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is surrounded by reporters as he walks on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Mariam Zuhaib / AP
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AP
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is surrounded by reporters as he walks on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Ernst and Blunt, both members of Senate Republican leadership, said later that Markarova provided detailed explanations of how direct aid to Ukraine's government has been spent.

"I was very satisfied with her explanation of how they dealt with the first $1 billion of aid," Blunt said. "They've got extraordinary expenses but they don't have very much money coming in. The tax collection system in a situation like this doesn't work well at all."

Ernst said Ukraine has very specific needs when it comes to food. The country, a major agricultural exporter to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, faces serious challenges to planting, harvesting and shipping this year.

Ernst said there are additional challenges getting food to war-torn parts of the country. Congress approved $100 million in food aid but Ernst said none of it has been disbursed, in part because of shipping challenges.

"It has not gone anywhere," she said. "What we are hearing is that those shipping costs are actually more than the food is worth."

Hard to know exactly how the money is being spent

The format of the funding makes it difficult for the public, or for lawmakers, to know exactly how the money is being spent.

The last round of money was approved as an emergency spending package that was attached to a broader spending bill. Emergency funds do not need to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases and do not have an impact on funding for other government programs. Congress commonly uses emergency spending packages to fund natural disasters, international emergencies and defense operations — including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Like most other emergency funds, it was structured to give government agencies, or the military, wide flexibility to shift spending priorities with few specific restrictions outside of designating the money to address the war in Ukraine.

The bill provided roughly $4 billion to assist people displaced within Ukraine, more than $2.5 billion for food and health care support and $1.4 billion is intended for additional migration and refugee assistance.

The military aid section included $3.5 billion for defense-wide operations and maintenance and granted Biden the authority to transfer an additional $3 billion in defense equipment to Ukraine. General defense funding included $650 million for grants or direct loans.

The White House and State Department have provided periodic updates when the administration draws new money from the funds Congress has allocated.

In March, days after the first round of aid was approved, the White House gave details of how $800 million of the funds had been spent. They listed:

  • 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
  • 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems;
  • 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems;
  • 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns and 400 shotguns;
  • Over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds;
  • 25,000 sets of body armor; and
  • 25,000 helmets.
  • Later, Secretary of State Antony Blinken released information on $150 million in arms and equipment from the Department of Defense that was to be sent in May. At the time, the government said it was the ninth round of such spending, with a total cost of $3.8 billion.

    "We will continue to provide Ukraine the arms its forces are effectively using to defend their country and the freedom of their fellow citizens," Blinken said in a statement. "In addition to military assistance, we also continue to provide direct U.S. financial support to Ukraine, support for documenting evidence of Russia's atrocities against Ukraine's civilians, and measures to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Putin's crumbling economy."

    Cancian of CSIS said it is normal for the government to give sparse details on how funding is being spent in a conflict.

    "This is all about operational security," he said. "They are in a war and the administration is reluctant to put out too much information about what capabilities the Ukrainians have."

    The new $39.8 billion aid package is expected to pass the Senate soon.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.