Congress is due to act soon to replenish funds on COVID

WASHINGTON – The United States will soon have enough money to support supplies for testing on COVID-19 and ensure that uninsured Americans continue to receive free treatment for the virus if Congress soon does not approve additional funds, the White House warned on Friday.

Nearly a year after the adoption of the U.S. $ 1.9 trillion rescue plan, the administration says the federal government has almost used the money earmarked directly to respond to COVID-19. Officials say more money is urgently needed from Congress to buy antibody treatments, preventative pills for immunocompromised people and to fund communities.

“On the COVID side, the bank account is empty,” said COVID-19 Deputy Coordinator Natalie Quillian. “We are in talks with lawmakers on how to secure funding, but it is urgently needed.” Some of the effects could be felt later this month.

Last month, the White House told Congress it was preparing to demand $ 30 billion to fight the virus, but cut it to $ 22.5 billion in a formal request earlier this week that officials say includes only the most important needs. This is coupled with a $ 10 billion request to support Ukraine and its people after the Russian invasion.

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“This is an urgent request, and this is what is at stake in our fight against COVID,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

This month, the White House warns, test makers on COVID-19 will begin to slow down the production of rapid tests at home unless the federal government signs contracts to buy more. Officials say it could lead to cuts in supplies if another surge occurs.

They also said that this month the Administration of Health Resources and Services will be forced to begin curtailing claims for COVID-19 treatment for uninsured people unless Congress allocates more money. Moreover, the supply of monoclonal antibodies to the US government will end in May. And in July will end the supply of prophylactic tablets AstraZeneca, which can prevent serious diseases in people with weakened immune systems. Deliveries of oral antiviral pills to the United States will end by September.

“Given how expensive COVID was when so many of our compatriots were hospitalized or dying and our daily lives were disrupted, we just can’t afford to wait until we invest and protect people,” Psaki said.

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The request also includes funding to support vaccine purchases in the U.S. and global vaccine distribution.

In the US, there are enough injections of Pfizer vaccine for children under 5 if it is approved in the coming weeks. But if regulators introduce a three-dose vaccine regimen, administrations will need more money to buy additional doses. The same will be true if regulators determine that children ages 5-11 should be vaccinated.

The White House stressed that the federal government must sign contracts for drugs and vaccines a few months before they are needed, so Congress must act now to prevent any gaps.

Some Republicans expressed shock at Biden’s request by pushing the administration to redirect other funds to aid that had not been spent.

“Oh, no, that’s too much,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, a senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Thursday in response to a question from the administration’s $ 22.5 billion request. “And secondly, we want to see how much money has not yet been spent on previously approved measures to combat COVID-19.

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Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, and 35 other Republican senators wrote to Biden on Tuesday that before supporting the new money, they want a “full account” of how the government has spent the funds already allocated.

The White House said it was ready to study the redistribution of already approved, unspent money, but stressed that continuing to meet needs should be a priority.

And the administration will ask Congress for additional funding in the coming weeks.

“We are sensible about our urgent request, but we know that more will be needed,” Quillian said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government has worked to ensure that treatment and vaccines against COVID-19 are free. Earlier this year, Biden began supplying up to eight free virus tests to U.S. households.

Quillian said the administration is ready to eventually shift the cost of injections and pills to insurers, as well as the treatment of other diseases, especially when the virus subsides. But she said the White House believes the recovery from COVID-19 is still too fragile to make changes, and that Washington needs to pay the bill.

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“We can’t waste our position,” Quillian said.

According to a table from the Ministry of Health and Social Services obtained by the Associated Press, COVID-19 relief bills passed since the pandemic contained $ 370 billion in public health programs, including vaccines and other medical supplies, testing, research and compensation. costs.

Of that amount, $ 355 billion is currently being spent, has been spent or is required to perform contracts, according to HHS.

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AP writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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