Obama administration officials are confident that Congress will approve a request for $6.18 billion in emergency funding to stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and prepare for the possibility of more cases in the U.S.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, and Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told reporters Thursday in a conference call that Republican and Democrat delegates alike have been receptive to the call for funds.
“In our initial interactions with Congress, we have heard from both sides of the aisle a real interest in this, and a real interest in moving it quickly,” said Donavan, who replaced Burwell as OMB director in August. “It’s a really good example of the bipartisan response we’re getting in the lame duck (session).”
The proposed $6.18 billion will be divided among several agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $1.83 billion. The Biomedical Advanced Research Development Agency would receive $157 million for vaccination and therapeutic drug manufacturing, and the National Institutes of Health would see $238 million for vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials, with the Food and Drug Administration receiving $25 million for review of potential vaccines and therapies. HHS’ Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund would receive $333 million towards the purchase of and training on the use of personal protective equipment, as well as efforts to create 50 regional Ebola treatment centers. Also, $2.1 billion would be allocated to attacking the Ebola virus in West Africa, with $1.98 billion going to the U.S. Agency for International Development and the rest allocated to the State Department.
It is crucial that Congress fund the effort to defeat the outbreak at its source, Burwell said. Historically, requests for emergency public health funding have been treated with urgency by members of Congress, Donavan added, noting that legislators responded quickly with emergency funding to battle the H1N1 influenza strain in 2009.
“There is real urgency here, and there is risk if it’s not passed by the middle of the December that we could start to see funding gaps that could set us behind in the effort,” Donavan said.
Appropriations for public health emergency preparedness have gradually dwindled since 2003. At $255 million, funding for HHS’ Hospital Preparedness Program is roughly half of what it was a decade ago, and funding for the CDC’s State and Local Preparedness and Response Capability program has dropped to just over $655 million, over one-third lower than previous peak appropriations for the program.
Members of Congress understand the importance of responding quickly to national emergencies, said Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit, non-partisan public health advocacy group.
“I think that emergency preparedness and public health response to emergencies will always have strong bipartisan support,” Hamburg said. “Congress has always, in prior administrations, been very supportive in providing the resources necessary in response.”
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