Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mary Mathews BurwellThe biggest revelations from Fauci's inbox What a Biden administration should look like Bogeymen of the far left deserve a place in any Biden administration MORE announced Thursday that she is using her authority to transfer funds from other areas in her department to prevent a delay in the research into a vaccine for the Zika virus.
In a letter to Congress, Burwell portrayed the move as a last resort given the inaction from Congress in providing new funding, and continued to urge lawmakers to approve new funds when they return in September.
Without new funds, Burwell had previously said that her department would run out of money for work on a Zika vaccine at the end of August, causing a delay in the work. Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, can cause birth defects in the newborns of mothers who contract the disease while pregnant.
She announced Thursday that she is transferring $34 million to Zika vaccine work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $47 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which works with the private sector on vaccine development.
“The failure to pass a Zika emergency supplemental has forced the Administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to avoid these delays,” Burwell wrote.
Burwell said the transferred money from the NIH is being taken away from other important work at the agency. The new money for the BARDA is being taken from a range of other HHS agencies, including those that work on poverty and mental health, she said.
She did not detail more specifically where exactly the new money is being taken from, though.
Burwell’s announcement comes one day after a group of Florida Democratic lawmakers sent a letter calling for her to act quickly and transfer money in the face of congressional inaction.
Republicans cried foul on Thursday, saying that the HHS was acting in response to Democrats but failed to act in response to the same request made by Republican lawmakers last month.
"We sent a letter last week to House and Senate Republican appropriators where we said we were evaluating all options to address this issue," an HHS official responded. "That letter was sent before we received any letters from the FL Dem delegation. So no one should be surprised by the timing of this announcement given that we indicated a decision would be forthcoming."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top official at the NIH, addressed why the department did not act sooner at an event with reporters on Thursday.
"Why did we wait so long? We were hoping, continually hoping, that Congress was going to appropriate the money for us,” he said.
He and Burwell emphasized that the NIH still needs about $196 million for Zika efforts next year.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanOn The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood Stopping the next insurrection Former Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 MORE’s (R-Wis.) office sent out a statement saying Democrats are “politicizing” the Zika crisis.
“We’re pleased that the Obama administration is finally activating funds it has to combat Zika,” Ryan’s office said. “But it’s a shame that it’s come after months of shameless political posturing. Democrats in the administration and Congress have shown over and over again that they’d rather mischaracterize history to demonize Republicans instead of swiftly address a public health crisis. That’s a new low.”
Republicans called on Democrats to drop their filibuster of a $1.1 billion Zika funding bill.
Democrats object that the Republican-backed bill limits funding to Planned Parenthood and cuts Ebola and ObamaCare funding. They have called on Republicans to negotiate a “clean” funding bill without those provisions, but Republicans have refused.
— Sarah Ferris contributed.
— This story was updated at 2:46 p.m.