on the hill

Progressives push to preserve aid for UNRWA in 2024 government funding bill

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Andre Carson (D-IN) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) led 47 colleagues on a letter calling for full funding for UNRWA in the upcoming government funding bills

Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images

Palestinian families take refuge under harsh conditions at a school affiliated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) at the Daraj neighborhood as the Israeli attacks continue in Gaza City, Gaza on February 6, 2024.

Congressional progressives are urging key congressional leaders to provide funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as part of the upcoming 2024 government funding process.

U.S. funding for the scandal-plagued agency is frozen, following accusations that a dozen UNRWA employees participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Senate lawmakers included in a supplemental national security funding package passed this month an explicit prohibition on aid to UNRWA, a sticking point for House progressives. The House had previously proposed to cut off UNRWA funding in its 2024 funding proposal.

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), André Carson (D-IN) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) led 47 colleagues on a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees — which are currently working to hammer out the details of 2024 government funding — calling on them to provide full funding for UNRWA in the upcoming bill.

“Proposals by Congress to prohibit or reduce UNRWA funding will significantly erode the United States’ ability to provide life-saving assistance and minimal social structure to Gaza’s 2.2 million people,” the letter reads. “It is in the strategic interest of both the U.S. and all of its allies to continue funding UNRWA in order to stabilize the crisis-ridden region and tend to the humanitarian catastrophe that no other organization or agency will be able to effectively address.”

The lawmakers acknowledged the need to “ensure that US funds to UNRWA are appropriately vetted.”

While the lawmakers did not directly address the administration’s decision, independent of Congress, to freeze UNRWA funding, they suggested that they’re satisfied with the response from the U.N., including dismissing the employees in question and launching internal and external reviews. Supporters of Israel have highlighted the anti-Israel views of some of the institutions involved in the external review.

They said that UNRWA only has funding to operate through the end of February and that no other U.N. or independent NGO has the ability to immediately address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. They also argued that not funding the U.N. agency would destabilize the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

“As the largest funder of UNRWA, it is critical that the U.S. continue to appropriate funds to support its important work,” they said. “We encourage you to consider UNRWA’s unique and essential role in delivering humanitarian aid in the region and recognize the proactive steps UNRWA has taken towards full accountability and transparency as you consider setting future funding levels for the agency.”

House Democratic leaders are seeking to bring the Senate’s foreign aid bill to the House floor, potentially through a bipartisan process that would circumvent congressional leadership. But this letter indicates that there is a not-insignificant coalition of lawmakers who have concerns about efforts to cut off UNRWA funding who could make those efforts more difficult.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) introduced legislation that seeks to block the U.S. from providing any aid via U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations into both Gaza and the West Bank. 

House and Senate leaders announced agreements on a tranche of government funding bills on Wednesday, but said they’ll seek to delay the deadline to finish other bills, including the State and Foreign Operations, Defense and Homeland Security bills until March 22. That also means that the House will likely not resume work on the emergency aid bill for Israel until late March or early April.

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