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What’s in Congress’s $1.5 trillion appropriations bill

The legislation includes significant Ukraine aid and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

House Speaker Pelosi Holds Weekly News Conference
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a weekly news conference.
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Both the House and Senate have finally passed full-year appropriations bills, unlocking billions in aid to Ukraine, infrastructure money, and millions in earmarks.

The $1.5 trillion appropriations package now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he’s expected to sign it. The massive, 12-bill omnibus is the product of months of negotiating between the two parties, as well as a last-minute scramble to remove Covid-19 relief due to concerns some Democrats had about how it would be paid for.

It will provide $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and greenlight new levels of social spending and defense spending after they’ve been locked at Trump-era levels for over a year.

Lawmakers also still have to deal with keeping the government open: Both the House and Senate voted to extend a March 11 funding deadline until next Tuesday, giving themselves more time to navigate procedural hurdles.

What’s in the appropriations bills

The $1.5 trillion appropriations bill contains a 6.7 percent increase in non-defense spending over the previous fiscal year to $730 billion, and a 5.6 percent increase in defense spending to $782 billion. Below are some of the programs that it will fund:

  • Ukraine aid: The bill allocates $13.6. billion in humanitarian relief and military support to Ukraine, including funding for refugees, medical supplies, food, and weapons transfers. Such aid is separate from bipartisan trade legislation the House has also passed, which support President Joe Biden’s efforts to curb energy imports from Russia and require a review of Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization.
  • Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: The legislation contains $575 million to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which funds programs that combat domestic abuse and sexual assault. Lawmakers have struggled to renew the bill since it expired in 2019 due to disagreements about gun control provisions, but they’ve since arrived at a compromise that stripped those out.
  • Financial aid for college: The bill includes $24.6 billion for federal student aid programs, including funding that increases the maximum Pell grant by $400 to $6,895 per year. That’s the biggest expansion to these grants — which are awarded annually to undergraduate students based on financial need — in 10 years, according to the legislation.
  • Food aid programs: The legislation contains $26.9 billion for child nutrition programs, which includes a $1.8 billion boost over the previous year for school lunches and a summer SNAP program. It does not include, however, funding for waivers that would enable schools to offer universal free lunches as they have been able to do during the pandemic.
  • Infrastructure money: As Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) noted last month, much of the spending allocated in the infrastructure bill has been held up because it has to be formally approved by Congress first via these appropriations bills. Once the bills are passed, millions in funding for roads and bridges, and other transportation programs, can be funneled out.
  • Defense spending: Roughly half the bill is dedicated to funding for the military and national security — including $32.5 billion more than the prior year. This includes money for weapons and transportation systems, veterans’ health care and a 2.7 percent salary increase for service members.
  • Earmarks: Beyond the larger expenditures that it contains, the appropriations package also brings the return of earmarks, or the ability for lawmakers to set aside funds for specific projects in their state or district.

In the Senate, these earmarks are now called “congressionally directed spending” and included requests for community centers, fire stations, and airport terminals. In the House, they are called “community project funding,” and included requests for regional water projects, local school programs, and workforce training. There are more than 4,000 earmarks in the omnibus package, The Hill reports.

What comes next

Democrats have announced that they plan to hold a standalone vote on Covid-19 funding next week, but it’s unclear how much Republican support it will be able to garner as a separate bill.

Democrats had decided to drop Covid-19 funding from the omnibus package because their own members disagreed with how it would be paid for. Since Republicans wanted new Covid-19 funds to be offset, lawmakers had agreed to do so by using $8 billion in unspent funding from the American Rescue Plan, which had yet to be sent to different states. Democratic lawmakers from those states, however, fiercely opposed this arrangement — leading it to be removed from the final omnibus.

The decision to strip this funding carries risk. If it’s not ultimately approved, it could severely impede the United States’s response to a new variant, its ability to seek out additional treatments, and its resources for distributing vaccines internationally.

“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” Pelosi wrote in a letter on Wednesday.