Update, February 25: The Trump administration on Monday night sent Congress a request for $1.25 billion in emergency funding to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The request, detailed in a three-page letter, also calls for shifting $535 million in unused money that had been designated to fight Ebola toward the coronavirus efforts. Hundreds of millions more would be redirected from other health programs and government agencies, bringing the total coronavirus response funding to at least $2.5 billion.
In the letter, acting White House budget director says that, so far, no agency has been inhibited in its response effort due to lack of resources or authority. But with public health officials warning that the spread of the virus in the U.S. is “inevitable,” lawmakers in both parties expressed concern that the request for $1.25 billion in new funding falls well short of what’s needed.
The Trump White House is preparing to ask Congress for emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak, which spooked financial markets on Monday, fueling the biggest stock market selloff in two years as the number of cases worldwide rises and worries mount about the global economic repercussions.
"We need some funding here to make sure that we protect all Americans,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News. Gidley declined to specify how much the White House would be requesting after Fox’s Ed Henry said he’d been hearing $3 billion to $5 billion. Other news reports suggested the White House could seek about $1 billion.
Experts have reportedly questioned whether that would be sufficient. “By any measure, that would not be enough for a government-wide supplemental to make a meaningful impact,” Adriane Casalotti, an official at the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told The Hill. “Vaccine development alone needs way more than that.”
Inside the administration’s decision-making: The administration has reportedly pushed back on that $1 billion figure, with officials saying that the final number was still being determined.
“The White House budget office, led by Russell Vought, a stout conservative, is working with HHS to shape the request, with the agency seeking more than the White House is likely to approve,” The Associated Press reported. “There is a receptive audience for the request on Capitol Hill, though stand-alone emergency spending bills can be tricky to pass since they are invariably a target for lawmakers seeking add-ons.”
Congress likely to provide more: Democratic lawmakers have been pushing the administration to request emergency funding, and Congress is likely to add to whatever amount the White House asks for, The New York Times reported, citing a congressional aide with knowledge of the planning.
“While I welcome action from the administration and look forward to working with them, it is worth noting that Appropriations Chairwoman [Nita] Lowey and I urged the administration three weeks ago to submit an emergency supplemental funding request to address the novel coronavirus public health emergency,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who heads the appropriations subcommittee on health, said in a statement, according to the Times. “Since then, new cases and deaths around the world have significantly worsened, and we have still not received crucial information as to what funding H.H.S. has allocated to emergency response activities or how quickly they expect to expend funding.”
The Trump administration initially said it could fund its coronavirus response by tapping into a $105 million rapid response fund at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and transferring up to $136 million from other federal programs.
What’s next: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is scheduled to testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday and will likely be questioned about the administration’s coronavirus response and funding request.