Unions: Ebola a ‘wake-up call’ on funding

Labor unions representing the nation’s healthcare workers are demanding an increase in funding for federal public health agencies, saying the Ebola crisis has exposed the dangers of short-changing the system.

“This should be a wake-up call,” said Randi Weingarten, who is president of AFT, the country’s second largest nurses’ union.

Weingarten called Thursday for increased investments in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH), which have each seen their funding dip in recent years.

The CDC’s $5.8 billion budget for fiscal 2014 represents a decrease from 2010, when agency coffers totaled almost $6.5 billion. The NIH budget saw a peak in 2010 with $31.2 billion, before falling to $30.6 in fiscal 2014.

Both agencies were hit with sequester cuts, though some of that funding was later restored under a 2013 deal struck by Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package Senate chairman says bipartisan health care package coming Thursday MORE (D-Wash.), the heads of the House and Senate Budget committees, respectively.

Still, revelations that hospitals lack training and resources to respond to the threat of Ebola has provided fresh fodder for groups on the political left advocating for additional funding.

The diagnosis of a second healthcare worker with the virus this week sparked new calls for more funding to ensure healthcare workers have the tools needed to stop the spread of Ebola or other infectious diseases.

“They are our first line of defense,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union.  “We would not send soldiers to the battlefield without armor and weapons.”

Both unions are calling on the federal government to impose additional standards to keep health workers from being exposed to Ebola, as well as more resources and proper training.

Hospitals, they charge, are ill-equipped to meet the Ebola challenge without additional federal assistance.

“It takes funding and it takes a public response — a governmental response,” Weingarten said.

Some Republicans have rejected the calls for a funding increase. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulO'Rourke: Trump 'provoking' war with Iran by sending troops to Middle East Overnight Defense: 1,500 troops heading to Mideast to counter Iran | Trump cites Iran tensions to push through Saudi arms sale | Senate confirms Army, Navy chiefs before weeklong recess Trump to send 1,500 troops to Middle East to counter Iran MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday said the NIH has more than enough money to handle Ebola, noting the agency now spends about $30 billion a year, up from $17 billion in 2000.

"When they say they don't have enough money with their big cuts, look at the bottom line," Paul said. "No money has been cut in Washington, but it's about time we do cut money in Washington."