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Democrats: Trump has yet to spend nearly $14B for COVID tests, contact tracing

Democrats: Trump has yet to spend nearly $14B for COVID tests, contact tracing
© Stefani Reynolds

The Trump administration has yet to distribute nearly $14 billion intended to help state and local governments improve coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to two top Democrats.

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNew York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn Biden congratulates Pelosi on Speaker nomination Senate Democrats introduce bill to shore up PPE supply MORE (D-N.Y.) and Senate Health Committee ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition DOJ investigation into Epstein deal ends without recommended action The Hill's 12:30 Report: What to know about the Pfizer vaccine announcement MORE (D-Wash.) said the administration needs to "immediately" distribute the funding.

Congress in April provided more than $25 billion to increase testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as $2 billion to provide free COVID-19 testing for the uninsured by paying providers’ claims for tests and other services associated with getting a test, like an office or emergency room visit.

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But according to Schumer and Murray, the administration has no plans for how to distribute more than $8 billion out of the $25 billion, leaving communities without needed resources.

"The United States is at a critical juncture in its fight against COVID-19, and now is the time for an aggressive and fast response. This administration will put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory, leave lifesaving work undone, and leave resources our communities desperately need sitting untouched," the lawmakers wrote.

They said the administration should disburse the $8 billion "immediately," with an emphasis on addressing contact tracing and collecting data on COVID-19 racial and ethnic disparities. 

Leading public health groups say state and local governments need $7.6 billion to quickly scale up contact tracing, including $4.8 billion to hire at least 100,000 contact tracers. Still other experts believe the country needs closer to 300,000 contact tracers.

Like much of the federal response to the pandemic, states have been left to establish their own contact tracing metrics, and many are even lagging behind the metrics they set for themselves. 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t released a national contact tracing strategy to help localities evaluate their efforts and hasn’t awarded nearly $4 billion for surveillance and contact tracing at the state and local levels and tribal territories, the Democrats said.

The administration has also distributed very little of the $2 billion meant to pay for the costs of testing.

"We call on you to immediately disburse the remainder of the $25 billion in funds to ramp up testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as to make sure providers are aware of and able to easily access the $2 billion that Congress appropriated to provide testing for the uninsured," Schumer and Murray said.