Trump signs $8.3B COVID-19 funding bill
In the wake of the White House’s request for $2.5 billion in COVID-19 response funding, which was criticized by some experts as inadequate, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday providing $8.3 billion in emergency funding to combat the outbreak.
The Senate passed the bill on Thursday and President Donald Trump signed the bill into law today.
“I’m glad they went [with] the high end of the appropriation,” Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Healio. “I believe we’ll really need it.”
The bill will provide supplemental appropriations for the FDA, the CDC, NIH and the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to combat the spread of the virus, which is currently responsible for 100 confirmed cases, including 10 deaths, in the U.S., with 13 states reporting cases. The bill will also offer supplemental funding for the Small Business Administration, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“I think it’s important that funding for infectious disease emergencies does not pull from other infectious disease emergencies and that this funding stream is not part of the alarm and neglect cycle that we’ve seen so often with these types of events,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Healio. “Infectious disease emergencies need to be funded as the national security threats that they are.”
Programs funded by the bill will address issues like vaccine development; procurement of medical supplies; grants for state, local and tribal public health agencies and organizations; loans for small businesses being affected by the outbreak; emergency preparedness and evacuation activities at U.S. embassies and other State Department facilities; and humanitarian assistance for health systems in affected countries. The bill will also enable HHS to temporarily waive specific Medicare requirements and restrictions for telehealth services during the COVID-19 emergency.
The supplemental appropriations are designated as emergency spending, which means they are exempt from discretionary spending limits.
Several professional organizations, including The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), have weighed in on the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak.
“As our national strategy (local, state, national and global) evolves to incorporate new, reliable information, we must remember that national and global collaboration, political will at home, fact-based, consistent messaging and full funding are also essential to getting the job done,” ASTMH wrote in a letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. “Our U.S. scientific leadership is our best bet to manage this outbreak. They are highly qualified, experienced, trusted and committed to serving the best interests of our nation and the world.”
WHO launched a $675 million COVID-19 preparedness plan in early February, $60 million of which is slated to finance WHO operations. The rest will be allocated to countries at the highest risk.
“This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said at a press conference today. “As we have said before, even high-income countries should expect surprises. The solution is aggressive preparedness.”
In the United States, New Jersey reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while New York reported two new cases of the virus. Both patients in New York are in the ICU, according to multiple news outlets. There are currently more than 93,000 total confirmed cases of the virus internationally, including 2,984 deaths in China and 214 deaths outside of China, data from WHO show.
“The legislation implements the President’s vision to ensure that not only do our federal agencies have the support and resources that they need, but also that our state and local partners have their support,” Pence, who was recently appointed to lead the U.S.’s COVID-19 response, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. “In my conversations with governors, I know they’re grateful for the bipartisan spirit that has characterized this funding bill.” – by Eamon Dreisbach
Editor’s note: This story was updated on March 5, 2020 to include the passage of the bill in the Senate and on March 6, 2020 to note that the bill was signed by President Trump.
CDC. COVID-19 Situation summary. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html. Accessed March 05, 2020.
Congress. H.R.6074 - Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6074?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22coronavirus%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=1. Accessed March 05, 2020.
NBC. 2 new NYC cases mark fresh community spread; both patients in ICU, mayor says. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/2-more-covid-19-cases-in-ny-brings-total-to-13-community-spread-eyed-in-possible-nj-case-as-state-awaits-tests/2313298/. Accessed March 05, 2020.
WHO. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 44. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200304-sitrep-44-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=783b4c9d_6. Accessed March 05, 2020.
Disclosures: Adalja and Hotez report no relevant financial disclosures.