White House to request $500M to fight Ebola

The White House will ask Congress on Wednesday to permit the Pentagon to shift an additional $500 million over the next fiscal year toward fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

The additional funding would be used for transporting military personnel and healthcare workers to the site of the Ebola crisis, as well as paying for isolation units, protective equipment for doctors and medical supplies, an administration official said. The money could also be used for temporary shelters to quarantine patients, training and education for local health officials, and support for sanitation and mortuary efforts.

ADVERTISEMENT
The $500 million request is in addition to another half billion dollars already requested by the Pentagon for humanitarian missions to assist Iraqi citizens under siege from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). If approved, the joint $1 billion would shift previously unmitigated funds into the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget and could be used at the Pentagon’s discretion.

An administration official added that because they could not estimate precisely how much of that budget would be used for the Ebola pandemic, the funds could be used to respond to other humanitarian crises — including those posed by ISIS. 

The Pentagon has used the OCO budgets to assist the victims of ISIS attacks and support rescue efforts, like the airdrops of food and medical supplies to minority civilians who were briefly trapped by ISIS fighters on Mount Sinjar.

The request is “separate from the substantial resources that have already been put towards” fighting Ebola, the official said, “including the $175 million already dedicated, and the $88 million requested through the continuing resolution.”

Because the request is to shift previously budgeted funding, lawmakers will not need to proactively approve the reprogramming as part of a legislative vehicle. The four congressional defense committees will have an opportunity to review and block the request, although such vetoes are relatively rare.

Speaking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, President Obama said the Ebola outbreak risked “spiraling out of control” if the U.S. did not intervene.

“It is getting worse,” Obama said. “It’s spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands. And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected, with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”

Obama said the U.S. would establish a military command center in Liberia to support the U.S. effort, and administration officials say as many as 3,000 military personnel could be dispatched to the region to help the fight against Ebola. 

The U.S. would also create "an air bridge" to get health workers and medical supplies to West Africa faster and build 17 hospitals, each with 100 beds, for those suffering from Ebola.