Trump “shut down 37 of 47 global anti-pandemic programs.”

— Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), in a tweet, Feb. 25, 2020

Murphy made this claim in a tweet that complained that President Trump had put no one in charge of dealing with the coronavirus — Vice President Pence has since been given the authority — and that Trump “made a choice to make us vulnerable … to this pandemic and the next one and the next one.”

It was quite a viral tweet — nearly 60,000 retweets and likes — and similar figures, though more carefully worded, have appeared in news articles and opinion columns. So, we wondered: Did this really happen? In the context of the possible pandemic, it seemed to be an alarming figure.

The Facts

Murphy’s staff said the source of its information was a Washington Post article from early 2018. That article said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is dramatically downsizing its epidemic prevention activities in 39 out of 49 countries because money is running out.” Similar articles appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal at about the same time, all of which said the administration was planning to scale back or end activities in 39 out of 49 countries.

Murphy’s staff did not explain why his numbers were slightly different. Nor did they explain why they were relying on an article from 2018 when, presumably, a senator or his staff could quickly find out whether the funding reductions occurred.

At issue was an initiative called the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), which sought to help countries prepare to detect and respond to infectious diseases. The U.S. contribution was largely funded by a supplemental package passed in 2015 after the Ebola crisis that provided about $600 million to the CDC for global-health security work — and the money was running out.

It turns out the shutdown likely did not happen — in large part because of the publicity from the articles and the work of advocacy groups.

Brandon Ball, senior lead for congressional relations at PATH, a global health technology nonprofit group, tracked down the numbers for The Fact Checker. The fear in early 2018 was that there would be only a $58.2 million appropriation at a time when the supplemental was running low on funds. But then lawmakers, within weeks, nearly doubled the appropriation.

“That article was from February 2018, and the bump from $58.2 million to $108.2 million was part of the Omnibus in March 2018,” Ball said. “The bump wasn’t a given.”

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers. The Ebola supplemental ended in fiscal 2019, but then Congress increased the annual appropriation.

  • FY15: $55.1 million appropriation + $62 million supplemental (total: $117.1 million)
  • FY16: $55.2 million + $133 million ($188.2 million)
  • FY17: $58.2 million + $247 million ($305.2 million)
  • FY18: $108.2 million + $109 million ($217.2 million)
  • FY19: $108.2 million + $44 million ($152.2 million)
  • FY20: $183.2 million appropriation
  • FY21: $225 million (Trump administration request)

“Fortunately, because of a variety of factors — including PATH’s advocacy and congressional education work and that of the consortium [backing the GHSA] — we have seen the overall dollar amount move closer to the level that would mitigate what was being written about in 2018,” Ball said. “However, the job isn’t nearly done as covid-19 is demonstrating, which is why we are still advocating and [the CDC] is still working.”

The Post article from 2018 quoted Carolyn Reynolds, then a vice president at PATH, as expressing concern about the impact of the proposed funding reductions on an emergency operations center established with CDC funds in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa.

“My understanding is that it still up and running,” Reynolds said. “We were concerned it was on the chopping block. The good news is that global health security programs have seen their numbers go up.”

As we noted, the administration’s 2021 budget request called for an increase in the annual appropriation for global public health protection. The budget notes the commitment to the GHSA represented by the five-year supplemental passed in 2015. “To ensure these successes continue their trajectory and maintain momentum, the administration has affirmed its commitment to strengthening global health security and fully supports the next phase, GHSA 2024,” the document says.

The CDC says it provides direct financial support and technical assistance from CDC staff to 17 “Phase 1” countries and technical assistance to 14 “Phase 2” countries and CARICOM, an organization of 15 Caribbean countries and dependencies. An additional eight countries are listed as Ebola Preparedness Countries. That adds up to more than 49, but CDC documents refer to 49 countries. There has been no change to how CDC describes the program or the countries served by it between 2017 and today.

CDC officials had promised a response but are understandably busy. We notified Murphy’s staff of our findings but did not hear back.

The Pinocchio Test

Murphy jumped to conclusions, assuming the funding reductions had gone into effect and the programs in nearly 40 countries were closed. But that’s not correct. Advocacy groups and congressional officials jumped into action. The Trump administration backed off and now appears to fully support GHSA. The recent news reports cited above more accurately said that the administration had sought these cuts, without mentioning that they did not go into effect.

Murphy earns Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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