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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

GAO: HHS Faces Public Health Emergency Funding Challenges

The Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund received $800 million in appropriations from 2019 through 2023, including $600 million in 2020 after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has examined the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) funding options to help address immediate needs of a public health emergency or threat.

Public health can be at significant risk during emergencies, like a pandemic or hurricane. State and local governments typically lead the domestic response to a public health emergency. However, if their capabilities are overwhelmed, HHS may provide additional support. HHS can use a variety of funding options to help address a public health emergency or threat. For example, HHS may use annual or supplemental appropriations that were made for specific agency programs and activities. HHS also has two reserve funds to address immediate needs that arise in the first days or weeks of an emergency.

The Public Health Emergency Fund, established in 1983, is a reserve fund to help HHS agencies, such as the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to rapidly respond to any kind of public health emergency or threat. Such threats include extreme weather; diseases; radiological or nuclear incidents; or acts of terrorism. This fund has not received appropriations or been used in over 25 years.

The Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, established in 2018, is another reserve fund to allow CDC to rapidly respond to infectious disease threats. This fund received $800 million in appropriations from 2019 through 2023, including $600 million in 2020 after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. From fiscal year 2020 through May 2023, CDC used $211 million from the fund for activities such as diagnostic testing and airport screening to help control the spread and severity of three infectious diseases: COVID-19, Ebola, and mpox (formerly known as monkeypox).

HHS officials told GAO of challenges funding immediate needs during selected public health emergencies. For example, prior to the infectious disease fund, HHS officials said it took time to identify and secure funding to address the immediate needs of the Zika outbreak in 2016. They were ultimately able to identify some funds from another program to use for the Zika response.

The HHS officials said that the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund has helped to address some of these challenges, specifically for CDC. In particular they said that having readily available, flexible, and consistently replenished funding has helped CDC respond quickly to emerging infectious disease threats before they worsen. However, HHS officials said they continue to face challenges addressing immediate needs, for example noting that the fund is available only for infectious diseases and not for other public health threats.

Read the full report at GAO

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Homeland Security Today
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.
Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
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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