Some $60 million will soon flow to states, cities and territories to fight the Zika virus, White House officials announced Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will begin awarding nearly $60 million to localities to "support efforts to protect Americans from the Zika virus," including protecting against the birth defect microcephaly, the agency said in a press release Thursday. CDC said new funding will be available to jurisdictions Aug. 1.
CDC said the money will go toward:
- Tracking and investigating the epidemiology of Zika,
- Improving mosquito monitoring and control,
- Bolstering lab capacity,
- Supporting participation in a pregnancy registry that tracks women infected with Zika and their infants.
The announcement comes after criticism from congressional Republicans who accuse the administration of dragging its feet on spending Zika funds while at the same time executive branch officials insist more money is needed.
"These CDC funds will strengthen state and territorial capacity to respond to Zika virus, an increasingly concerning public health threat for pregnant women and babies," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden in a statement. "We hope Congress will provide the additional resources we need to fully support the Zika response."
An Office of Management and Budget aide confirmed on background that the additional $60 million comes from the $589 million in total funds the administration reprogrammed in April to fight the virus, in the absence of Congress appropriating $1.9 billion in emergency funds that were requested in February. CDC said funding is distributed through the agency's Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement.
More money moving could encourage skeptical Republicans in Congress, who slammed the administration before the recess for not spending a larger chunk of the $589 million "in the kitty," as House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers characterized it. During a House Appropriations Committee Labor-HHS-Education markup on July 13, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart accused the administration of "gross irresponsibility" after Rogers told the Florida Republican only $90 million had been spent from the $589 million total.
"They've got the money and they won't spend it. My question is why?" said Rogers.
In response to a request from Roll Call for a breakdown of how much of the $589 million has been spent, the OMB aide said prior to the announcement that the U.S. Agency for International Development had obligated $27 million and the Department of Health and Human Services had obligated a total of $118 million.
That means the administration had committed, by the agency's count, $145 million of the $589 million up for grabs, or nearly 25 percent of the total funds. But that percentage has now increased with the $60 million in additional funds announced Thursday.
Of the $589 million in rerouted money, $510 million came from funding Congress approved in 2014 that was intended to combat the Ebola virus. After the April funding shift, White House officials suggested there were no further funds available to reprogram for fighting Zika, in addition to stressing the reprogrammed Ebola money would need to be replenished.
The OMB aide also provided information that showed about $2 billion remains with USAID and HHS for the Ebola effort. It is being used for work with international partners to investigate new cases. The aide added that some of the funding is part of presidential or prime minister-level commitments with other countries.
Thursday's news comes a day after the CDC said it is coordinating with local officials in Florida who are investigating a "potential non-travel related case of Zika infection."
The news prompted the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee's top Democrat, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, to slam Republicans for not passing additional funds before the seven-week congressional recess.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also rekindled the Zika fight this week, blaming "Clinton Democrats" for blocking funding to combat the virus in a speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on Tuesday night.
News about where and how the administration is using funds to fight Zika has been trickling out in recent months.
HHS directed $85 million to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, an office within the agency that handles funding contracts for the development of treatments for potential bioterrorism attacks.
BARDA in the last few months has entered into an agreement with several companies to either further develop existing technology to combat the Zika virus, or conduct research into a vaccine for the virus. The contracts span multiple years, but would be dependent on what resources are available in the coming fiscal years.
The department announced last month a three-year $30.8 million agreement with Cerus Corp. for clinical trials of a system developed by the company for the treatment of red blood cells. That contract could be worth $149.7 million over five years.
BARDA also announced a $17.5 million agreement with Terumo BCT Technologies to help expand one of the company's programs to help reduce the risk of Zika infection through platelets. That contract could total $151.8 million over six years.
The department recently entered into an agreement with Emergent BioSolutions, Inc. to conduct early stage vaccine development research. The department will provide $17.9 million in funding, spanning over more than two years, with the potential amount totaling $21.9 million.
California Democratic Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, one of the original authors of the legislation that created BARDA, said she did not think the department's funds should be used for things like Zika. In the absence of additional funding from Congress, however, the agency is having difficulty finding available money, Eshoo said.
"The higher-ups in HHS are scrambling and desperate to try to find dollars so they come over into this space too. That's not what BARDA was intended to do," she told Roll Call.
Acting BARDA director Richard Hatchett said the program supports emergency medical countermeasures that can be used for multiple purposes, such as for bioterrorism threats, antibiotic-resistant infections or cancer.
"BARDA only funds development for products that also have an emergency use," he said in a statement.
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, or WRAIR, within the Department of Defense is also working on a vaccine for the virus. It announced earlier this year an agreement with pharmaceutical giant Sanofi S.A. to pursue advanced development of the treatment.
The treatment is currently in early human trials, which are being done in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases within the National Institutes of Health.
BARDA is not currently supporting the WRAIR in its development of the vaccine, according to a Pentagon spokesman.