More than $1 billion would go toward vaccine development, and the other funds would go toward stockpiling protective equipment like masks, according to the Office of Management and Budget. While the money is meant to be spent in 2020, the request contains language that would allow the spending to continue through 2021 if needed.
“The Trump Administration continues to take the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease very seriously,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokesperson for OMB, in a statement. “Today, the Administration is transmitting to Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental funding plan to accelerate vaccine development, support preparedness and response activities and to procure much needed equipment and supplies. We are also freeing up existing resources and allowing for greater flexibilities for response activities.”
House Democrats swiftly rejected the request, with Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) calling it “woefully insufficient.” Lowey and others have warned the White House against siphoning funds from other health initiatives to fight coronavirus, urging administration officials to ask for new emergency money instead.
“Despite urgent warnings from Congress and the public health community, the Trump administration took weeks to request these emergency funds,” Lowey said in a statement. “It is profoundly disturbing that their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities. Worse still, their overall request still falls short of what is needed for an effective, comprehensive government-wide response.”
“House Democrats will move quickly to enact a robust package that fully addresses this global emergency without allowing this administration to steal from other necessary programs,” Lowey added.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations panel that handles health funding, also slammed the request.
“The Trump administration wants Congress to rubber stamp their plan to steal funds from programs like medical research at the National Institutes of Health, school readiness for kids through Head Start, Ebola vaccine funding, and much more—all while withholding key information about their efforts to date to stem the spread of the coronavirus,” she said in a statement. “That is unacceptable.”
Inside the White House, officials have spent days jockeying over the final figure for the supplemental package—veering between anywhere from $1 billion to $5 billion. On Monday, in the early evening, officials finally settled on the $2.5 billion request.
But Derek Kan, a top White House budget deputy who’s also working on coronavirus efforts, contended that, “OMB and HHS have been in lockstep throughout this entire process.”
Public health groups had pushed the administration to ask for emergency funds, warning that state and local agencies would be strapped by the high costs of responding to local coronavirus outbreaks. “Isolating and quarantining individuals and maintaining critical supplies … are beyond the scope of current federal grants,” the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and three other groups warned on Monday morning.
The emergency funding request is much smaller than the Obama administration’s $6.2 billion request in 2014 to fight the Ebola outbreak.
Trump’s emergency funding request also falls far short from what some public health experts — and former administration appointees — had deemed necessary to fight coronavirus. Chris Meekins, a Raymond James analyst and former Trump administration HHS official, had called for $15 billion in emergency spending, arguing that $3 billion was needed for vaccine development alone.
The request for additional money comes in response to the growing threat of the coronavirus, as the pandemic has spread to Italy, South Korea and Japan.
The stock market took a sharp tumble on Monday amid fears of the growing unpredictably of the path of the coronavirus. Amid economic uncertainty, White House officials were eager to project a confident attitude about fighting and containing the pandemic in the U.S.
But some Republicans close to the White House and even White House aides were also calling the coronavirus a “black swan,” meaning they deemed it an unpredictable event with potentially severe consequences.
The still-mysterious coronavirus has infected more than 78,000 people abroad, although only 53 people now in the United States are confirmed to have contracted the virus, almost entirely overseas. One senior administration official said the White House felt good about this level of containment, praising the president early on for suspending travel to and from China—even as he attempted to maintain a good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“The markets do not like uncertainty, and coronavirus is uncertainty,” the official said. “We’re confident the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain strong.”
Dan Diamond contributed to this report.