Feb 25, 2020 - Health

Trump administration asks Congress for $2.5 billion to fight coronavirus

 President Donald Trump with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in the Roosevelt Room at the White House September 04

President Trump with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar at the White House in September. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Trump administration sent a letter to Congress Monday requesting a funding commitment of at least $2.5 billion to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Details: The request for the Department of Health and Human Services includes $1.25 billion in new funds to fight COVID-19 and the transfer of $535 million from untouched funds for the Ebola virus.

Why it matters: The request comes as Wall Street had its worst day in two years, after a spike in coronavirus cases in South Korea and Italy. COVID-19 had by Tuesday morning killed at least 2,699 people and infected more than 80,000 others, mostly in mainland China. But more countries are reporting infections.

The big picture: Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Rachel Semmel said in a statement to Axios that the Trump administration was transmitting to Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental funding plan "to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much-needed equipment and supplies."

  • "We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities," Semmel said.
  • The HHS said in a statement it intended to provide resources to continue the department's "robust and multi-layered public health preparedness and response efforts — including public health surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory testing, support for state and local governments and other key partners, advanced research and development of new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, advanced manufacturing enhancements, and support for the Strategic National Stockpile."

Zoom in: The funding would cover more than 1 billion for vaccines, therapeutics, vaccine development and stockpiling of personal protective equipment, such as masks.

  • The resources are intended to be used this year, but the language would allow for spending to continue through 2021 if necessary, to allow for additional flexibility.

The other side: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, "The President's request for coronavirus response funding is long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency." She said the administration had left "critical positions" vacant for almost two years amid funding cuts.

  • "[T]he President is compounding our vulnerabilities by seeking to ransack funds still needed to keep Ebola in check," she added. "The President should not be raiding money that Congress has appropriated for other life-or-death public health priorities."

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