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Monkeypox Funding Plans at Risk With Coronavirus Aid in Gridlock (1)

July 28, 2022, 9:15 AMUpdated: July 28, 2022, 4:38 PM

A potential White House request for billions of dollars in monkeypox funding could find itself ensnared in an impasse on Capitol Hill over additional Covid-19 dollars.

Lawmakers have been struggling for most of this year to agree on new funding for Covid-19 pandemic programs that the White House has warned are running low on money. Turning their attention to a new health threat could prove even trickier.

“The fact that Congress hasn’t gotten any stomach to fund Covid—which we know we need that money"—could mean delays in procuring monkeypox funds as public health departments are grappling with two big outbreaks, said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

The Biden administration estimated to Congress it may need around $7 billion to respond to the growing monkeypox outbreak, according to the Washington Post.

“We have communicated to Congress what we believe would be a good path forward on monkeypox and what it would take in terms of resources and authorities to be able to move forward,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a Thursday media briefing.

“We will continue to provide whatever information and technical assistance they requested of us so they can try to put together a plan both for Covid and for monkeypox,” he said.

There are now nearly 3,600 cases in 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those numbers will likely rise as increased testing capacity picks up more cases.

“The monkeypox outbreak is bigger than people think,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to see increased reporting on this because now people are aware of it.”

A Democratic aide and key senators said they haven’t received a request from the White House, a formal step that typically kicks funding requests into gear. This means there likely won’t be action until at least September, after the congressional summer recess.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said the White House hasn’t reached out to him to ask for money for a monkeypox campaign. Burr said he’d want the Biden administration to release a plan for combating the virus before he would support emergency funding for such a campaign.

“I’ve heard of a monkeypox czar and we’ve got a lot of agencies that should have filled in the blanks on this, but I haven’t seen guidance yet,” Burr told Bloomberg Government.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), ranking member of the health appropriations panel, said he discussed the monkeypox outbreak with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky last week but that “Congress has not been asked to specifically do anything yet.”

“I’ve had one discussion. I’m ready for any more input from the administration as to what they’d like to see Congress do,” Blunt said Tuesday when asked in the hall about monkeypox. Blunt’s office provided audio of his comments to Bloomberg Law.

Available Dollars

The Biden administration has repeatedly warned it won’t have enough money to provide Covid-19 boosters to everyone in the fall without additional funding.

Senators struck a bipartisan deal in April to spend $10 billion on Covid resources, and to offset the cost by rescinding previously appropriated funds. But the measure has languished amid a fight over the planned end of the Title 42 pandemic immigration policy, and some of the $10 billion in proposed “pay-fors” have already been spent.

Read More: Biden’s Covid Vaccine Strategy Shift Eludes Lawmakers, Pharma

Still, funding for monkeypox may go through Congress if it gets added into a sweeping budget reconciliation bill or an existing appropriations bill, Benjamin said.

Senate Democrats Thursday proposed giving the Biden administration $21 billion in new emergency funding to combat Covid, although no Republicans have so far signaled they would support it.

Senate Democrats are also trying to pass in coming weeks legislation to permit the government to negotiate with drugmakers and extend Obamacare premium subsidies, along with other energy and climate measures—a package that some lawmakers have eyed for pandemic funds, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin released the outline of the tax, climate and health care deal on Wednesday, in what could prove to be major breakthrough after weeks of negotiations. A fact sheet on the measure didn’t mention any Covid or monkeypox funding.

Read More: What’s in the Manchin-Schumer Deal on Taxes, Climate and Energy

Both the Biden administration and Congress must ensure the nation has sufficient resources to respond to this growing outbreak, Ellie Dehoney, vice president of policy and advocacy for Research!America, said. The White House for its part must provide details of what it needs and any gaps in funding, she said.

“It’s going to be very hard to get this done if the administration doesn’t provide a really clear accounting,” Dehoney said. “After that, we need Congress to find and provide those dollars.” She urged Congress to prioritize such funding in August, or immediately in September.

Robust Strategy

Benjamin said he’s confident that Congress ultimately will provide funding. “I just hope that it’s enough, and quickly enough, for us to really begin to get our hands around it,” he said.

Once the money gets appropriated, it’s still takes months for it to get down to the people that actually need it, Benjamin said.

Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 coordinator, said the White House has a robust, comprehensive strategy to combat monkeypox by scaling up procurement, production, and distribution of vaccines, expanding access to testing and treatments, and reaching out to communities most affected by the virus.

He didn’t mention plans to ask Congress for additional money during a White House press briefing July 25.

“We continue to take this virus seriously,” Jha said. “We not only continue to be aggressive, but to continue to ramp up our response to this virus and protect communities in the United States that have been most affected by monkeypox.”

But disease threats are coming at a faster and more furious rate, Dehoney said. “If it’s not done we are sitting ducks,” she said. “This is not a nice thing to do. This is a survival strategy.”

(Updated with comments from Becerra in the fifth and sixth paragraphs and Senate Democratic emergency funding proposal in the 18th paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloombergindustry.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com