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Appropriations Democrats Request Special Meeting on Emergency Zika Virus Funding

As the Obama administration’s request for emergency supplemental funding to respond to the Zika virus outbreak has stalled in the House, top Democrats urged House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) to hold a special meeting on the funding request before Congress recesses for the next district work period.

A handful of legislators have been struggling to pass the $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding in order “to mount a robust domestic and international response against the Zika virus.”

Lowey, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) urged Rogers to hold a special meeting on the administration’s request, saying that, “Under the rules of the Appropriations Committee, three members may request the chairman convene a special meeting. If the chairman fails to schedule such a meeting within seven calendar days, a majority of the committee members may convene a special meeting on their own.”

In their letter to Rogers, the three stated, “It is imperative that the Appropriations Committee move quickly on this potential public health catastrophe and that we provide both short- and long-term resources, to properly prepare our public health system.”

The lawmakers said, “The Zika virus is a true public health emergency that has the potential to affect millions of Americans this summer, including more than two million pregnant women. The federal government’s top public health experts affirm that new information about the severity of the Zika virus is cause for even more concern. There are already 700 cases in the United States, including 354 in the continental US. Now is the time for Congress to act in a bipartisan way to mount aggressive response and prevention efforts.”

Lowey, DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz had put forth an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill to provide the administration’s $1.9 billion emergency supplemental funding request.

Congress’s failure to act on the request for immediate emergency funding required the administration to have to redirect $589 million from other health and international development projects for Zika priorities, including $510 million intended to fight Ebola in West Africa.

Republicans voted down the Lowey-DeLauro-Wasserman Schultz amendment in a party-line vote by replacing it with a substitute amendment which made all unobligated Ebola funding eligible for Zika use.

Democrats said this action means “depriving critical long-term Ebola priorities of funding,” and provides “no new money to respond to public health threats threatening Americans. Existing funding the administration reprogrammed from Ebola to Zika will run out prematurely in the middle of the summer (high season for mosquitoes), and is not enough to finish clinical trials for a Zika vaccine.

The Lowey-DeLauro-Wasserman Schultz amendment would protect Americans through mosquito control, ensuring the safety of the blood supply, enhancing lab capacity and surveillance efforts, developing more advanced and accurate tests for Zika, vaccine development and further research to enhance understanding of Zika.

“At a time when the Zika virus is spreading dangerously, and the federal government’s most senior public health experts tell us the virus is ‘scarier than we initially thought,’ it is unconscionable for Congress to continue sitting on its hands,” said House Committee on Appropriations ranking member, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). “It is shameful that the administration was forced to redirect funding from other health priorities – including the deadly Ebola virus – in order to meet immediate and urgent needs. We do not have the luxury of responding to either Ebola or Zika – we must do both.”

They’ve called the majority Republicans’ inaction “unconscionable,” “shameful” and “unacceptable.”

Earlier, DeLauro had said, “Unfortunately, we have yet to hold a hearing on the administration’s request for an emergency $1.9 billion appropriation to face the Zika threat. Instead, the administration was forced to rob nearly $600 million from the response to one public health crisis – Ebola – to respond to Zika. This is dumbfounding. The Ebola crisis is not over. Let me be clear: these funds are being directed away from other critical and threatening global health risks and are being repurposed only as a last resort – not because it is the right thing to do from a policy perspective. Still, it is less than one-third of the President’s emergency request. It is unacceptable that in the midst of a global health crisis, we cannot appropriate emergency funds to save lives.”

“For months, our nation has watched in horror as the Zika virus has spread through the Americas and  increasingly affected our own nation, especially my home state of Florida, which leads the nation in confirmed Zika virus cases,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding, “the Republican leadership has refused to consider the administration’s request … It is time for Congress to join together in solving public health crises like this one and time for Republicans to stop sticking their heads in the sand."

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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