White House identified $510 million of unused Ebola money
Congress has not yet responded to a February request from the White House for $1.9 billion in emergency funds for Zika
In an effort to take immediate action against the Zika virus, the White House said it will redirect $589 million of existing funds, including $510 million which had been designated to fight Ebola.
The funding is needed for detection, prevention and response efforts, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.
There are about 40 million people traveling between the continental United States and areas where the virus is circulating, according to Burwell.
The primary goal, she said, is to protect pregnant women and those who may become pregnant, because the virus is linked to a neurological birth defect and other fetal abnormalities. Experts agree that there are many unknowns when it comes to the virus and more is being learned every day.
In February, the administration asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency supplemental funding to fight the Zika virus. Congress has yet to act on that request. “Nearly two months have passed, and the situation continues to grow more critical,” said Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Last week while speaking to reporters at a news conference at the CDC during a Zika action plan summit, several federal officials urged Congress to act.
Amy Pope, White House deputy homeland security adviser, may have foreshadowed this move when she said, “We’re bringing the money to this fight, but we cannot undermine our fight against Ebola or all the other health epidemics that exist to take the fight to Zika. But let me be clear, even if we make these hard choices, the money we have now is not enough.”
Referencing new Ebola cases in Guinea and Liberia, she said, “We cannot erode the gains we made in our fight to Ebola.”
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden agreed Ebola is not over. “It’s a dangerous world out there, and the more we can stop diseases from spreading overseas, the safer we can be here at home,” he said.
Donovan made it clear Wednesday the redirected money does not replace the pending request to Congress. He said the $589 million will need to be replaced.
Without this money, the administration said, mosquito surveillance and control, vaccine development, and diagnostic testing improvements will be hindered.
“I think Congress is doing is asking the American people to choose which disease they want the most protection from and that just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Pope said.
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There have been at least 346 cases of the virus in the continental United States so far, according to the CDC. Most of these among travelers returning from currently affected countries and territories. There are no reported cases of mosquito transmitted Zika infection in the continental United States at this time. However, there have been 354 cases of the virus so far in the U.S. terrotories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Urging Congress to act immediately, Donovan said, “We should not play with fire here. We should not risk the outbreak spreading and getting out of control.”