The additional money would address growing demands on the CDC, HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and HHS’s Office of Global Affairs, HHS confirmed Monday. About $75 million would be available for the CDC, $52 million for the ASPR and $8 million for the Office of Global Affairs.
The quiet but proactive effort to obtain more money reflects the White House’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in recent days. The Trump administration has sought to play down risks to the public while working behind the scenes to bolster the government’s response given how quickly the coronavirus has spread in China and worldwide.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar is overseeing the Trump administration’s response to the epidemic, which has infected more than 17,000 people in China and 146 people in 23 other countries, including 11 in the United States. On Friday, he announced broad new travel restrictions and quarantine rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.
Many of the White House’s most aggressive steps to address the spread of the virus have come since Friday.
The need for additional money is not unexpected, given the labor- and resource-intensive measures the CDC has had to take to respond to the epidemic in recent weeks. By law, HHS must wait 15 days after providing Congress notice to access the funding, an HHS representative said.
“With the disease outbreak expanding rapidly in China, and more cases occurring in the United States, it is not possible to project exact funding needs weeks in advance,” said Katie McKeogh, an HHS spokeswoman. “Out of an abundance of caution and to ensure HHS’s ability to respond and adapt to a rapidly changing situation, HHS notified Congress that it may need to use the transfer authority at a future point in time to make up to an additional $136 million available.”
The CDC has used the initial $105 million for immediate planning and response, HHS said, including enhanced laboratory capacity, communication and education efforts, transportation, medical screening and monitoring of U.S. citizens returning from China. The agency has nearly 200 people working on the response, most of them at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, and it has the only lab in the country that is able to test all suspected cases of the virus. The agency has also sent teams to help states that have confirmed cases of the virus, including six in California, one in Washington state, one in Arizona, two in Illinois and one in Massachusetts. It also has had to send staff members to the U.S. airports that are screening passengers returning from China.
The initial $105 million that the CDC is using is made available to the agency through a congressional appropriations law. In 2019, Congress created the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which provides the agency money to respond to an outbreak immediately. HHS used some of the money set aside for 2019 and 2020 to respond to an Ebola outbreak in Congo, but there was more than $100 million remaining that the CDC tapped for the coronavirus response, a senior Democratic House aide said. HHS notified the House Appropriations Committee on Jan. 25 that the CDC was tapping the fund, the senior Democratic aide said.
The money HHS notified Congress about is separate from the congressional fund.
“As they should, the agencies on the front lines are using the funding and flexibility provided in the law to respond to the threat. We remain in close contact with them and stand ready to provide more resources if needed,” a Senate Republican aide said.
Both aides spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The administration significantly increased its response to the outbreak on Friday.
HHS declared the coronavirus a public health emergency, a long-expected move, but it also began at 5 p.m. on Sunday barring non-U.S. citizens who recently visited China from entering the United States, subject to a few exemptions. Officials are also quarantining any Americans who have visited China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, within the past 14 days, and the government is requiring screening and self-quarantines for Americans who recently visited any other parts of China.
With President Trump’s expected acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial this week, senior administration officials expect coronavirus to be front and center and do not want to appear unprepared in their response to the outbreak. Top U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that the number of cases in the country is likely to climb, and reported the first case of person-to-person transmission in the United States last week. The number of U.S. cases rose from seven on Friday to 11 on Monday. Officials are also concerned that a test used to detect the virus is not always accurate, and that there is evidence that the virus can be spread even when someone is not symptomatic.
In the past, Trump has repeatedly sought to slash global health funds in the administration’s annual budget blueprint, but Congress as rebuffed those requests. For fiscal 2019, Trump requested no money for the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Fund, but Congress provided $50 million. For fiscal 2020, Trump requested $50 million for the fund and Congress provided $85 million.