Democratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response

Democratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are urging the Trump administration to request emergency funding from Congress to respond to the coronavirus. 

In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Meadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE, 25 Senate Democrats said they have heard concerns from state and local public health departments that are facing additional costs from responding to the outbreak. 

While there are only 15 confirmed cases in the U.S., hundreds of Americans have been quarantined after being evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak. More than 74,000 cases have been confirmed in China, while 924 cases have been confirmed in 25 other countries. 

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“Based on the global escalation of cases and the increasing demands on federal, state and local public health agencies, we are concerned that HHS has not requested additional resources,” wrote the group of senators, which includes Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar Trump lashes out at Schumer over call for supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTrump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee. 

State and local health departments have been tasked with helping carry out federal quarantine orders, as well as isolating confirmed cases and assisting with the screening of travelers. But it’s not clear if those departments will be reimbursed for their work, the senators said.

“We strongly urge the Administration to transmit an emergency supplemental request that ensures it can and will fully reimburse states for the costs they are incurring as part of this response — including costs associated with the enactment of travel screening and quarantine policies laid out by the Federal government,” the senators said. 

The administration has not requested any supplemental funding and has relied on the $105 million set aside for HHS to respond to infectious disease outbreaks. 

HHS notified Congress recently that it might transfer up to $136 million from other programs to respond to the coronavirus, but has not provided any more information. 

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But the senators wrote in the letter that the administration has provided few details about current or future spending and should request more funding to ensure the “strongest possible response.” 

Azar has said talks of emergency funding requests are premature. 

“It’s premature to be talking about any additional needs for money at this point. There are still so many unknowns about the situation,” Azar told reporters earlier this month. “We won’t let resources be any kind of barrier to response activities here but let’s not put the cart before the horse.”

Azar has also said that state and local governments already have “significant funding” from the federal government to respond to outbreaks.