GOP senators press for answers on testing shortages despite 'ample' funding

Two top Republican senators are calling on the Biden administration to provide answers about how it has spent billions of dollars in testing funds for COVID-19 amid shortages in such tests across the country. 

Pharmacies sold out of rapid tests, and long lines at testing sites have sprung up in the last month amid holiday travel and a massive surge in cases fueled by the omicron variant. 

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Government watchdog faults HHS leadership for sustained public health crisis failures Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate’s health committee, and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThere is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Swalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down MORE (Mo.), the top Republican on the Appropriations health subcommittee, wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra to ask why there are shortages despite the billions approved by Congress since 2020 that were specified for increased testing.

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The senators pointed to $34.8 billion for testing across five bipartisan packages in 2020, and another $47.8 billion from Democrats’ American Rescue Plan in 2021. 

“With over $82.6 billion specifically appropriated for testing, and flexibility within the Department to allocate additional funds from COVID-19 supplemental bills or annual appropriations if necessary, it is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now,” the senators write. “It does not appear to be because of lack of funding, but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.”

Health experts have also been pushing the administration for months to do more to make rapid tests free and widely available. 

Late last month, the administration took action on that front, announcing the purchase of 500 million rapid tests to be made available for free to Americans who order them online. The tests are set to become available this month. Experts have pushed for further action given the U.S. population of 330 million, saying that 500 million tests are far from enough. 

The senators are seeking information from Becerra about how much funding for testing remains unused, as well as a breakdown of how congressional funding for tests has been spent so far.