Health chief warns Congress: Zika funds quickly running out


Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell is warning that administration funds to fight the Zika virus are quickly running out. 

In a letter to congressional Republicans sent Monday, Burwell points to a range of responses that will be impaired if Congress does not provide new funding. The letter comes as Democrats and Republicans point fingers at each other over who is to blame for the lack of Zika funding.

{mosads}Burwell writes that Phase II trials of a Zika vaccine will be delayed without new funding from Congress. She notes that the $47 million the administration shifted to the National Institutes of Health for work on a vaccine will be exhausted by the end of August.

Additional funding is also needed to continue tracking infants as part of a study on the health effects of Zika, Burwell writes. The virus can cause severe birth defects.

Burwell adds that there will also be a “severely limited” capacity to provide additional funds to states for mosquito control — primarily how the virus is spread — or to place additional clinicians in Puerto Rico, which has been hit hard by the virus. 

Burwell’s letter comes in response to one from Republicans in the Texas delegation, including Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, that pointed to reports that almost $400 million that the administration shifted over to fight Zika remains unspent. Republicans say the administration already has funding for Zika.

“Your Administration has not used all available tools to protect our constituents and the American People from the threat of the Zika virus,” the lawmakers wrote to President Obama last week. 

Pointing to the White House’s frequent calls for congressional Republicans to act on Zika, the lawmakers said the administration is trying to shift blame to Congress. “We are concerned that you and your Administration are attempting to give a false impression and shift the blame for failed leadership in combating the Zika virus,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Burwell counters that much of the funding is already out the door, and the remainder will be gone soon, meaning Congress needs to approve more money.

In addition to noting that vaccine funds will be exhausted by the end of August, she also writes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has so far spent $143 million of its $222 million for Zika. She says that “virtually the entire remainder” of the funds will be spent by the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30. 

Burwell says there is therefore an “urgent need” for Congress to approve more funds. 

There are now 16 people in Florida believed to have contracted Zika from mosquitoes there, a turning point for the virus.  

The Texas lawmakers, in their letter, pointed to a Republican-backed $1.1 billion Zika funding bill that Senate Democrats blocked before the seven-week summer recess. Democrats objected that the bill limited funding away from Planned Parenthood and included Ebola and ObamaCare cuts.

Republicans refused to return to the negotiating table to try to find a bipartisan bill in the weeks before Congress left for recess. 

“We hope that you will join us in calling on Members of Congress to stop the filibuster of additional funding for Zika prevention and response measures,” the Texas Republicans wrote to Obama. 

Burwell did not address the Democratic filibuster in her response.  

Tags John Cornyn Sylvia Burwell Ted Cruz

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