Senate Democrats Say Trump Administration Skimps on Virus Fight

Bill Allison

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is skimping on efforts to contain the coronavirus and should immediately request additional funds, Senate Democrats wrote in a letter released Saturday.

Rather than request new funds to combat the outbreak, Alex Azar, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, has shifted $136 million from other programs his agency oversees. The administration hasn’t informed Congress of how much funding it will need to respond to the illness, according to the letter, which was signed by 26 Democrats including Patty Murray, ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and Minority Leader Charles Schumer.

The letter was addressed to Azar and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Officials from the agencies have told Congress they have enough money to handle the crisis, and haven’t made a supplemental funding request.

Worldwide, more than 66,000 people have been infected with more than 1,500 deaths. So far, just 15 cases have been treated in the U.S., which has instituted travel screening and quarantines to try to keep the virus from spreading. State and local authorities, enlisted in those efforts, are facing escalating costs in implementing the procedures, the letter said.

The senators also questioned whether HHS can cover costs associated with testing vaccines and producing one in sufficient quantities. And they criticized the administration’s new budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, which cuts $100 million from the Centers for Disease Control and $35 million from its Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund, the primary source of money for responding to crises like corornavirus.

Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar also signed the letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Allison in Washington DC at ballison14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann

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