Agencies make their case for Ebola funds

Agencies make their case for Ebola funds
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The leaders of the nation’s health and budget offices are urgently calling on Congress to approve $6.1 billion in emergency funding to help stop the spread of Ebola.

“It is critical that we fund this quickly,” Shaun DonovanShaun L. S. DonovanHouse Dems call on OMB to analyze Senate budget plan Overnight Finance: Dems turn up heat on Wells Fargo | New rules for prepaid cards | Justices dig into insider trading law GOP reps warn Obama against quickly finalizing tax rules MORE, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a briefing with reporters Thursday. “The sooner we move, and the scale at which we move, means we can get this under control.”

If Congress does not approve the request before the temporary funding bill — which is part of the continuing resolution — runs out on Dec. 11, Donovan warned that the government could face “funding gaps that could set us behind in the effort.”

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Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell also stressed that the outbreak was unlikely to be stopped without the extra funding.

“What’s extremely important is making sure there is a response on the ground today,” Burwell said in the briefing. “What we have to do is put in place the stopping of it right now, this minute.”

The massive funding request is about six times more than what the government has already committed for Ebola efforts. About $4.6 billion would be used immediately, which would largely go toward the HHS and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Donovan said he and Burwell have been meeting with members of Congress and both believe lawmakers will pass the funding because “they know that this is serious.”

“It is clear to us, thus far, that this is being taken seriously as as an emergency,” Donovan said. 

He added that he is “pleased so far with the engagement we’ve gotten on both sides of the aisle” in their multiple conversations with lawmakers.

Burwell also offered new details about how the funding would help prepare hospitals and local health departments against Ebola.

Out of the $2.43 billion requested by the HHS, about $286 million would go directly toward state and local health systems, including about $68 million for states to equip specialized Ebola treatment facilities.

President Obama also said this week that securing the extra funding to fight Ebola would be one of his top priorities for the post-election Congress.

More than 13,000 people have been infected with Ebola world-wide, and nearly 5,000 people have died.

Donovan said the funding is crucial even as some good news comes out of Liberia, where fewer cases have been reported in its capital city of Monrovia. But he warned that the downward trend could be reversed with just a handful of new cases.

“We've seen it come down before and then spike back up as new outbreaks occur, so we have to be very vigilant. We have to move quickly,” he said. "We are scaling up our response as quickly as we possibly can."