Faced with a novel coronavirus outbreak that has taken the world by storm, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) recently highlighted lax pandemic funding from the Trump administration.
The group of Democrats pressed the administration to fully fund preparedness and response efforts last week, through a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney. The administration has frequently proposed cuts to programs and offices critical to pandemic response efforts, including most recently a 2020 budget proposal to slash pandemic response programs by nearly 20 percent.
“As we have learned from past public health crises such as the Ebola, SARS, and H1N1 outbreaks, pandemics require an aggressive, coordinated response across the federal government,” the Senators wrote. “In light of the current novel Coronavirus outbreak and the persistent threat of global pandemics, we urge you to fully fund infectious disease and pandemic preparedness and response efforts in your fiscal year 2021 proposed budget. A failure to do so would not only be a danger to the health and welfare of all Americans, but also a threat to our national security.”
The novel coronavirus — 2019-nCoV — surpassed its SARS relation this month, both in terms of people infected and killed. To date, the virus has spread to from its origins in Wuhan, China, to 24 additional countries, infected more than 42,000, and led to more than 1,000 deaths. All but one fatality, and the majority of infections, have occurred within China, but nations across the world have clamped down in the virus’s wake.
The World Health Organization declared 2019-nCoV a public health emergency of international concern last month. U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared it a public health emergency in the United States, as well. Last week, HHS also notified Congress it might require the allocation of more than $130 million to respond to 2019-nCoV effectively.
“The Trump Administration has repeatedly proposed budget cuts to the offices that spearhead emerging infectious disease and pandemic preparedness and response,” the senators wrote. “The President’s fiscal year 2020 budget would have cut over $4.5 billion to select offices that combat pandemics, a reduction of nearly 20 percent from fiscal year 2019 levels. Such reductions, if proposed in the upcoming fiscal year 2021 budget and enacted, would severely limit the federal government’s capacity to respond to emerging viral and biological threats, as well as to contain and minimize the spread of the current novel Coronavirus outbreak.”