President Joe Biden said in April 2022 that some of the funding in a Ukraine aid package that Congress later overwhelmingly approved could be used to pay pensions for Ukrainians amid the ongoing war with Russia. That is not a new development, as several viral tweets have misleadingly claimed in recent days.
“Joe Biden just announced the US is going to be supporting the pensions in Ukraine,” conservative commentator Jack Posobiec wrote in a Feb. 17 tweet. The post included a 29-second clip of Biden’s remarks that has been viewed almost 8 million times.
Then on Feb. 18, John Basham, a former Texas city councilman, tweeted an even shorter video of Biden’s remarks about pensions and wrote: “BREAKING: @JoeBiden Announced The US #TaxPayers Will Now Be PAYING The #Pensions & #Welfare For The People Of #Ukraine. This, While MILLIONS Of Americans Can’t Pay Food, Housing, Or Medical Due To Biden’s Policies. Also, While Thousands Of Americans Are HOMELESS & On The Street!”
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia then retweeted Basham’s post the same day and called on Congress to impeach the president.
What Biden said in the clip may have come as news to some, but he said it nearly 10 months ago — about funding that became law with bipartisan support only weeks later.
In remarks from the White House on April 28, 2022, Biden announced that he had signed a request for Congress to pass a bill authorizing a second round of “critical security, economic and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine continue to counter [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression.” Biden said additional financing was needed because money that Congress approved for Ukraine in late March 2022 — about a month after Russia launched its invasion — was running out.
He said the supplemental funding “addresses the needs of the Ukrainian military during the crucial weeks and months ahead,” while also providing “food, water, medicines, shelter and other aid to Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s war.” Then he added: “It’s also going to help schools and hospitals open. It’s going to allow pensions and social support to be paid to the Ukrainian people so they have something — something in their pocket. It’s also going to provide critical resources to address food shortages around the globe.”
Biden’s official request came a few days after Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko told the Washington Post that Ukraine needed at least $2 billion per month in emergency economic aid from the U.S. “Marchenko said Ukraine is seeking the economic support to continue to pay for pensions, salaries for health care and education officials, and other humanitarian needs,” the Post reported.
In a press briefing hours after Biden’s announcement, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the plan to allow some funding to be used for pensions and other “social support.”
“Well, look, I would say that we have provided a range of economic assistance, because we know that their economy has been devastated — not of their doing, because they were invaded by a foreign country,” Psaki said in response to a reporter who asked why Americans should be OK with the U.S. funding pensions for the people of Ukraine.
“We provide assistance — economic and humanitarian assistance — to a range of countries around the world because that’s part of American leadership. And so, I would say that’s the reasoning for this assistance being proposed in the package,” Psaki said.
A White House fact sheet published online the same day said that Biden requested a total of $33 billion for Ukraine, but Congress ultimately authorized $40 billion — of which about $15 billion was for humanitarian and economic aid, as we have explained before.
The bill, known as the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed by wide margins in the House (368 to 57) and Senate (86 to 11), and then Biden signed it on May 21, 2022. It was the second of four aid packages for Ukraine that Congress approved in 2022 — all with support from Democrats and Republicans.
We checked the text of the supplemental appropriations legislation, but found no mention of a specific amount designated to pay pensions. The White House also did not provide clarification when we asked about Biden’s remarks from last year.
In total, about $113.1 billion in funding for Ukraine was authorized in 2022, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Most of that – about $67.1 billion – was for defense-related spending, the CRFB said. The other $46 billion included $26.9 billion for an economic support fund; $7.9 billion for international disaster assistance; $6.6 billion in assistance for refugees; $1.5 billion for assistance for Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia; plus another $3.1 billion for other nondefense spending.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has been coordinating with the Treasury Department to distribute authorized economic aid to Ukraine in tranches. In a report published on Feb. 17, USAID said it had so far provided $13 billion in “direct budget support” to the government of Ukraine, or “GoU” for short.
“This funding has helped the GoU pay the salaries of 618,000 educators, 517,000 health workers, and 56,500 first responders,” the report says. “It has also helped the GoU to sustain critical healthcare services, meet its pension responsibilities for 9.8 million people, assist 1.3 million internally displaced persons, provide housing assistance to 4.1 million people, and provide social assistance to 240,000 low-income families and 480,000 persons with disabilities.”
That report did not say how much was spent on pensions, but a USAID spokesperson sent us another USAID report to Congress that indicated $4 billion of budget support for Ukraine was spent on pensions as of Nov. 30, 2022.
The bottom line: While the video of Biden talking about providing funding to pay Ukrainian pensioners may have caught some by surprise recently, it does not change the fact that he made those comments before Congress approved the money months ago on a bipartisan basis.
Update, Feb. 23: After we published this story, a USAID spokesperson responded to our request for more information. We updated this story to include the amount spent on pensions as of Nov. 30, 2022.
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