Obama requests nearly $2B in emergency funds to combat Zika outbreak

Republican staffer says Congress will consider the proposal

The Obama administration on Monday requested more than $1.8 billion to combat the Zika virus in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Last week, WHO declared the neurological disorders linked to the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern—a rare classification that has been invoked only three other times, most recently with Ebola.

With no treatment available, how can hospitals and health agencies prepare for Zika?

POTUS wants funds for education, vaccine development, more

The administration in a statement said the funding would be used to:

  • Accelerate Zika vaccine research and diagnostic test development;
  • Bolster mosquito control programs;
  • Educate pregnant women and their partners about Zika;
  • Educate providers about the virus; and
  • Expand its current response efforts.

About $1.5 billion of the requested funds would be directed to HHS. In addition:

  • $250 million would go directly to CMS to fund a one-year increase in health service assistance to Puerto Rico;
  • $210 million would go toward an urgent emerging threat fund to address Zika and other disease outbreaks; and
  • $200 million would go toward the development of vaccines and tests for both the Zika and chikungunya viruses.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Obama administration is "hopeful that Congress will recognize the urgency of this request and will act on it."

When asked how the plan would be paid for, Earnest said, "Those are the kinds of things Congress will have to work out."

Obama: 'This is not like Ebola'

In an interview on Monday with "CBS This Morning," Obama said that "there shouldn't be panic" over the Zika virus but that "it is something we have to take seriously."

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"The good news is this is not like Ebola. People don't die of Zika. A lot of people get it and don't even know that they have it," Obama said. However, he added that "there appears to be some significant risk [from Zika] for pregnant women or women who are thinking about getting pregnant."

Next steps

The Obama administration is scheduled to brief Senate leaders on Tuesday on the Zika response.

Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), says that Congress will consider Obama's Zika proposal within the context of the larger federal budget. "Given limited federal resources," Stewart says, "we expect the administration will brief Congress on their funding priorities at the briefing" (Kaplan, STAT News, 2/8; Korte/Szabo, USA Today, 2/8; CBS News, 2/8; Landler, New York Times, 2/8).

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