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Progressives slam restrictions on UNRWA funding: ‘Unconscionable’

Progressive House Democrats on Thursday heavily criticized a provision in the recently unveiled $1.2 trillion spending package that would halt funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

A number of prominent progressives highlighted cuts in funding for the key United Nations agency that provides food, water and shelter to Palestinians in Gaza as one of the reasons they are leery about voting for the government funding bill.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said the move to restrict funding is “highly political.”

“I think it’s unconscionable; it’s unconscionable,” Ocasio-Cortez said Thursday. “It’s also not grounded in sound facts. We have intelligence assessments that speak to this, and I find it highly political.”

The Biden administration said it would temporarily stop funding for UNRWA over allegations that some of its employees partook in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and Republicans pushed to keep the funding cut off.

Democrats countered that the dozen people allegedly involved is a minuscule portion of UNRWA’s 30,000 employees, and that UNRWA is a key resource for Palestinians facing a humanitarian crisis and would leave a void no other agency is able to fill.

UNRWA funding had emerged as a late sticking point in negotiations over the spending deal. The measure would extend the pause through March 2025 and deprive the agency of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) on Thursday shared a similar sentiment as his colleague from the Empire State.

“That’s some bullshit,” Bowman told The Hill on Thursday when asked about the provision.

Bowman said he still needs to “look deeper at” the spending package, but he later continued his criticism.

“But that’s some bullshit if we are not funding UNRWA,” he said. “UNRWA is the long-standing organization working on-the-ground in Gaza, providing humanitarian aid, and we have a humanitarian crisis right now where babies and children are starving to death. It’s evil. It’s unacceptable. We gotta fund UNRWA for sure.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said was “leaning no” on voting for the spending bills that would help avert a partial government shutdown.

Part of the reason was a 3 percent increase in defense spending, but the other was the UNRWA funding restriction.

“I’m still looking at it, but I’m leaning no,” Jayapal told The Hill on Thursday.

She said she was satisfied the GOP did not end up with all of the “wins” they wanted to have in the minibus negotiations, but she reiterated her concerns over UNRWA funds and the defense package.

“But for me, UNRWA prohibition is a big deal,” Jayapal said. “The defense budget is a big deal, so I’m still deciding what I’m gonna do.”

The lower chamber is expected to take up the spending package Friday. If it passes, it moves to the Senate where lawmakers would have to swiftly take it up and pass it in order to avoid a lapse in funding for numerous agencies.

“I will vote no on this bill that bans aid to children in Gaza who are dying of hunger,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wrote in a Thursday post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Forget the politics & procedural jargon. This is a test of first principles. The America I believe in must never be indifferent to the man made starvation of children.”

Mychael Schnell contributed.

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