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Biden Seeks $22 Billion More in COVID Relief, Even as Cases Drop Precipitously

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The Biden administration is seeking $22.5 billion in new COVID-19 response funds, coupled with $10 billion in emergency military and humanitarian relief for Ukraine.

Acting White House Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young said in a statement released Thursday that funds from previous COVID bills were used to fund vaccination and testing for Americans and to enable the U.S. to commit to donate 1.2 billion vaccines to the world.

“They also let us respond forcefully to the delta and omicron surges — but now, nearly all of these funds have been used,” Young said.

“Without additional resources, we won’t be able to secure the treatments, vaccines and tests Americans need in coming months and fight future variants. And critical COVID response efforts — such as free community testing sites and testing, treatment and vaccination coverage for uninsured individuals — will end this spring,” she continued.

“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,” Young said.

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The request comes as COVID cases have sharply declined in the U.S., from a peak of over 800,000 cases per day during the omicron variant peak in January to their current daily average of approximately 55,000, according to The New York Times tracker.

The last time COVID case numbers were at their present level was July 2021.

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GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama — the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee — said he does not support additional COVID-19 spending until previous funds are spent, The Hill reported.

“I think that we ought to determine — and we’ve asked the administration — how much unspent money is there. There are billions of dollars unspent,” told reporters.

“The American people need an accounting on how much is left. Let’s spend that first before we start borrowing more,” he added.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota concurred, saying Shelby’s view is “widely held” among his GOP colleagues.

“There’s a general belief that there’s a lot of money out there still floating around and before we put more out, we need to get an accounting for that,” Thune said. “And I think that includes even people who otherwise might be inclined to support some of the things that would be included there.”

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Moderate Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told Reuters the White House request appears correctly targeted but said there is a lot of appropriated money that likely could be redirected, citing the Democrats $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021.

“There’s another issue, which is, do we have available funds from the $1.9 trillion appropriated in March that could be repurposed for the new needs?” Romney asked.

Centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia also wanted an accounting.

“I want to make sure the money we’ve already put towards COVID has been used properly,” he said.

CNBC reported in December that Congress had appropriated a total of $4.5 trillion in COVID spending since the beginning of the pandemic, with federal agencies committing $4 trillion of that, and $3.5 trillion had already been spent.

So $500 billion or so remained available and uncommitted at that time.

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee last month, Young told Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that approximately $300 billion in COVID funds allocated to state and local government are unspent.

She added, “97 percent of the pre-[American Rescue Plan] funds remain obligated, and most of the direct COVID response dollars in ARP are obligated or spoken for.”

The American Rescue Plan garnered no Republican support because so little of it had to do with directly responding to the health needs created by the pandemic.

Among the largest ticket items, according to USA Facts, were over $413 billion in stimulus checks, followed by $350 billion to state and local governments, $242.8 billion to fund enhanced unemployment benefits, $170.5 billion to schools, $91.8 billion for public health, $88.5 billion for enhanced child tax credits and $21.6 billion in rental and utility assistance payments.

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