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US President Donald Trump walks visits St. John's Church after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC. As of last week, $386 million in COVID-19 aid had been released to nations in need, according to a government official familiar with the spending totals that the State Department has reported to Congress for both agencies.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration has lauded itself as leading the world in confronting the coronavirus. But it has so far failed to spend more than 75 per cent of the U.S. humanitarian aid that Congress provided three months ago to help overseas victims of the virus.

In two spending bills in March, lawmakers approved $1.59 billion in pandemic assistance to be sent abroad through the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

As of last week, $386 million had been released to nations in need, according to a government official familiar with the spending totals that the State Department has reported to Congress for both agencies. That money was delivered through private relief groups and large multinational organizations, including U.N. agencies, that provide health and economic stability funding and humanitarian assistance around the world.

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Of that, only $11.5 million in international disaster aid had been delivered to private relief groups, even though those funds are specifically meant to be rushed to distress zones.

The totals reflected spending on the global coronavirus response as of June 3 by the State Department and the U.S. aid agency and were shared with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity because the figures were intended to be private.

Relief workers said they were alarmed and bewildered as to why most of the money was sitting unspent.

“Little to no humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines of this crisis in the world’s most fragile context,” executives at 27 relief organizations wrote to the aid agency’s acting administrator, John Barsa, in a letter dated Thursday.

Most of the money is provided through the U.S. aid agency. A spokeswoman, Pooja Jhunjhunwala, said Friday that the total amount made available so far to relief groups was $595 million, including $175 million in international disaster aid. But that included projected reimbursements for money that would be provided later – not funding that had been delivered.

Jhunjhunwala also described a rigorous review before releasing the funding to make sure it would be properly spent.

“We want to ensure that we are accountable for the effective use of COVID funds and are good stewards of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars,” she said in a statement.

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