A person from Ukraine holds their Ukrainian passport before being allowed to cross the San Ysidro Port of Entry into the United States to seek asylum on March 22, 2022 in Tijuana, Mexico. U.S. authorities have recently been allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter the U.S. at the Southern border in Tijuana with permission to remain in the U.S. on humanitarian parole for one year. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, and Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, introduced legislation to require any funds resulting from the seizure of Russian assets to be used to support Ukrainian refugees and reconstruction in Ukraine.
The Repurposing Elite Luxuries Into Emergency Funds Act, or RELIEF for Ukraine Act, would require the Department of Justice to direct any funds resulting from the seizure of Russian assets into a Ukrainian Relief Fund, which the secretary of the Treasury would create, according to the bill’s summary.
“Putin and his inner circle bear direct responsibility for the war in Ukraine and the shameful death, destruction, and dislocation it has unleashed,” Bennet said in a statement Tuesday. “Our bill makes Putin and Russian oligarchs pay the price by ensuring that funds from their seized assets go directly to the Ukrainian people to support them through many difficult years ahead of resettlement, reconstruction, and recovery.”
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Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland launched the Task Force KleptoCapture, which is designed to enforce the sanctions, export restrictions and economic countermeasures that the United States has imposed on Russia, according to a Department of Justice statement. If the RELIEF Act passes, assets seized by this task force would be used to support Ukrainian refugees and help with reconstruction in Ukraine in areas not controlled by Russia.
The money could also be used to support nonprofit organizations that are engaged in direct efforts to help Ukrainian refugees, according to the bill’s text.
“I have been calling for weeks now that we should be seizing, not just freezing, Russian assets and using those funds to support humanitarian efforts for the Ukrainian people,” Portman tweeted Tuesday.
The money would be administered by the Department of State in consultation with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“Right now Ukraine is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since War World II — they need our help,” Portman said in Bennet’s statement. “One way to help is to move from freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs and wealthy citizens to seizing their assets, and providing that funding to people of Ukraine to help with ongoing humanitarian efforts.”
Other officials in Colorado are working to help Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis announced that Colorado has collected almost 1,300 ballistic helmets and almost 1,300 complete sets of surplus body armor from local law enforcement agencies to send to Ukraine.
President Joe Biden issued sanctions against Russia several weeks ago, announcing that the United States would no longer import Russian oil or gas. At the beginning of the month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it granted temporary protected status to Ukrainians who, as of March 1, are living in the United States, to ensure that they cannot be deported for up to 18 months.
Bennet joined other lawmakers in introducing the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax earlier this month, which would limit profiteering by large oil companies in the wake of rising gas prices across the country.
The RELIEF for Ukraine Act would require regular reports to Congress on the assets seized and steps to support Ukraine.
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