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Trump Expected to Have FEMA Direct Virus Supplies Among States

March 25, 2020, 10:06 PM

The Trump administration is expected to soon direct how manufacturers will distribute crucial medical supplies -- including protective gear and ventilators -- to combat the coronavirus outbreak, alleviating what U.S. governors have complained is a chaotic marketplace for the products.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will take charge of allocating the supplies nationwide, according to three people familiar with the matter, under a clause of the Defense Production Act. The law gives the government vast powers to direct industrial production in crises, but President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he’s reluctant to use it.

Governors, however, have complained publicly that they have found themselves in competition with one another and with the federal government to procure equipment including ventilators after Trump told them March 19 to try to obtain medical supplies on their own.

“In some ways we’re savaging other states. I’m trying to buy masks. I’m competing with California and Illinois and Florida, and that’s not the way it should be,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who like Cuomo is a Democrat, said Sunday: “We’re competing against each other. We’re competing against other countries. You know, it’s a wild west, I would say, out there.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Read more: $45 Billion in Disaster Funds in Senate Virus Response Bill

Trump has been questioned repeatedly about whether he’ll use the DPA to direct the manufacture of specific medical products, including respirator masks and ventilators. He has said he doesn’t want to, and that companies are voluntarily moving to meet higher demand for those products. The clause of the law FEMA is expected to invoke is different, giving the government the power to control the allocation of goods.

Manufacturers have also wanted the government to take over allocation. They say the potentially life-and-death responsibility to decide which states should receive supplies already in shortage should reside with the federal government.

Even with companies that don’t normally manufacture medical equipment converting assembly lines to fight the coronavirus, it’s likely there still won’t be enough ventilators, gloves and respirator masks for everyone who needs them.

Cuomo, for example, has said that New York needs 30,000 ventilators. The federal government has supplied 4,000 from the national stockpile, according to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Medical device manufacturers asked the federal government on Tuesday to designate FEMA or some other agency to act as a centralized ventilator distributor and make sure the devices get where they’re needed most.

A FEMA spokesperson said that the agency “receives, reviews and approves requests for federal assistance from states, tribes, territories” for personal protective equipment, surgical masks and other basic supplies. “As requests are processed, PPE is distributed through a variety of methods, including FEMA and HHS contracted transportation capabilities.”

Governors decide how to distribute the materials within their states, the spokesperson said.

Ventilator allocation is handled differently, with one official describing it as a partnership between FEMA and the Health and Human Services Department. HHS makes national-level sourcing assessments and balances the federal government’s acquisition needs with those of states, the official said.

--With assistance from Drew Armstrong, Jordan Fabian and Ari Natter.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Shira Stein in Arlington at sstein51@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net

Joshua Gallu

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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