on the hill

Republicans dig in against UNRWA aid as lawmakers scramble to finalize 2024 government funding

‘We’re not going to fund UNRWA,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham told JI. ‘UNRWA is dead to us.’

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem after traveling to Riyadh.

As they scramble to finalize government spending for the remainder of the year, Republicans and Democrats are butting heads over whether to allocate funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which Republicans say they unequivocally oppose.

The administration has temporarily paused existing funding for the U.N. agency in light of recent revelations that some of its employees participated in the Oct. 7 attack, but some key Democrats want to see funding allocated to the agency this year, describing it as the only viable option for delivering needed aid to Palestinians in Gaza and throughout the region. 

Republicans, who’ve long sought to defund the agency, are calling that a red line.

“We’re not going to fund UNRWA,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, told Jewish Insider on Thursday. “UNRWA is dead to us.”

Later in the day, on the Senate floor, Graham vowed that “there will not be one dime for UNRWA in any bill I support,” a position he said was shared by Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-ME).

Meanwhile, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, told JI recently that she wants to see UNRWA funding in the 2024 bill.

“Let’s correct what’s wrong,” DeLauro said. “But I think that we can have the appropriations process move forward and continue with funding for UNRWA but with guardrails and reform around their process.”

But given entrenched GOP opposition, the path ahead is unclear.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the chair of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee in the Senate, told Politico on Thursday that the UNRWA funding debate is the key stumbling block to completing the 2024 bill, and that he supports continued funding in spite of the ongoing investigation into UNRWA’s involvement with Hamas.

Coons suggested that funding for UNRWA elsewhere in the world, such as Jordan, could be split off from funding in Gaza. He said there have also been proposals to condition aid to the U.N. agency.

Another obstacle to finalizing 2024 funding is funding levels for the Department of Homeland Security. A source told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that wide-ranging cuts were expected across the department, including for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

But Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said that he’s concerned that the bill might not be finalized before the 2024 funding deadline, which could necessitate a full-year continuing resolution, holding funding levels steady for 2024 and staving off NSGP cuts.

Collins offered a similar assessment to Senate Republicans on Thursday.

Jewish groups would still be able to pursue a funding boost as part of the national security supplemental aid bill; the version passed in the Senate includes an additional $400 million.

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.