Dem. Senators Press Trump Admin. on Funding Numbers for Coronavirus Prevention

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, along with 25 of her Democratic Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney expressing their concern over the Trump Administration’s financial response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter came after the White House released its new budget proposal, which mentioned cutting public health and preparedness programs and using it’s transfer authority to address coronavirus prevention.

“With the disease outbreak expanding rapidly in China, and more cases occurring in the United States, it is not possible to project exact funding needs weeks in advance,” said Katie McKeogh, an HHS spokeswoman. “Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure HHS’s ability to respond and adapt to a rapidly changing situation, HHS notified Congress that it may need to use the transfer authority at a future point in time to make up to an additional $136 million available.”

The Senators said that “The administration has not been forthcoming about how much funding will be needed to respond to the outbreak.”

The senators wrote that they have made several requests to the administration to transmit a supplemental emergency request to Congress to ensure the “strongest” response possible to the outbreak but say the administration tells them there is sufficient resources available, without giving specific numbers.

The lawmakers voiced concerns about how the administration will pay for the forecast increased need for public health and emergency response like clinical trials to test vaccines for the coronavirus. They are concerned about the recent cut to public health programs that “are critical to preventing and containing the spread of infectious diseases …”

“We have heard the growing concerns from states and local public health departments about their escalating costs associated with travel screening, isolation and quarantine, staffing contracts, good and services and equipment for response.”

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State said the proposed budget, “protects against infectious disease threats at home and abroad by bolstering country capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks and to prevent epidemics from reaching our borders.” At a Feb.10 press briefing.

Biegun also said the budget will allow the United States to respond to threats like Coronavirus and Ebola.

We are requesting additional resources to replenish the flexible global health emergency reserve fund to allow us to quickly respond to outbreaks and to prevent potential pandemics from reaching our borders,” said Biegun but did not give specific numbers on funding.

“It is clear from previous global infectious disease outbreaks that they require aggressive, coordinated responses across the federal government … Administration officials stated that we must be prepared for a very large and lengthy public health response to this virus given how easily it appears to be transmitted.”

“We strongly urge the Administration to transmit an emergency supplemental request,” that guarantees how it will reimburse states for the cost associated with preventing and treating the coronavirus.”



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Author: Masooma Haq