Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Obama administration to shift $81 million to fight Zika

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to reallocate $81 million from the Department of Health and Human Services to fight the Zika virus, according to a letter sent Thursday by HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell.

Burwell notified congressional leaders that she will transfer $34 million away from other programs at the National Institutes of Health and $47 million within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority budget. The money will supplement the $347 million HHS transferred away from an existing fund to fight the Ebola virus. The administration is seeking $1.9 billion to fight Zika, but Congress is deadlocked over the funding.

"The failure to pass a Zika emergency supplemental has forced the Administration to choose between delaying critical vaccine development work and raiding other worthy government programs to temporarily avoid these delays," Burwell wrote

Last week, Burwell informed Congress that those two agencies were expected to run out of money by the end of August to fight the spread of the mosquito-borne disease. She warned that NIH would be forced to delay vaccine development without the funds. Burwell estimates that those two programs alone would need $538 million over the coming year.

The administration reports that there have been more than 7,300 cases of Zika reported in the United States, including 972 pregnant women. Fifteen babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects.

Earlier this week, the death of a newborn in the Houston area was linked to the Zika virus. Texas health officials said the baby acquired the virus while in the womb.

That news came one week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced at least 15 Zika cases in Miami. The news prompted an unprecedented travel warning advising pregnant women and their partners to avoid the area of the city where the cases were identified. It was the first time such a warning was issued in continental United States. Florida's caseload of Zika spread by Miami mosquitoes has risen to 25 now.

That outbreak prompted a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Florida to send a letter to the CDC requesting the agency reallocate money to fight Zika faster.

On Thursday Burwell said that the shifting of funds was a last-ditch effort. "With the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to even provide short-term financing to help fight Zika," she wrote.

Going forward, she said the country's ability to mount the sort of Zika response Americans deserve "sits squarely with Congress."

Negotiations in Congress over a $1.9 billion bipartisan spending package crumbled in late June and neither side has been willing to reopen talks. Democrats have rejected a $1.1 billion GOP-written alternative over politically motivated language, including provisions that would deny Zika-related funds from being sent to Planned Parenthood and loosen environmental regulations on pesticides.

Congress is out of session until after Labor Day but many lawmakers are calling on Republican leaders to convene a special session to pass an emergency Zika bill.

"What better thing do you have to do that you go home for a month-and-a half after ignoring the president's request of money?" House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked on Thursday.

Republican leaders have responded by blaming Democrats for blocking the GOP bill in July.

"Weeks ago the House of Representatives passed a $1.1 billion bill to fight the spread of Zika and control the mosquito population, and Senate Democrats have since filibustered this lifesaving bill," said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. "We hope Senate Democrats heard Leader Pelosi's call and will lift their irresponsible hold on the House-passed package to fight Zika"

Burwell estimated Thursday that the funds that the CDC, NIH and BARDA have been using to combat Zika "will be virtually exhausted by the end of the fiscal year" on Sept. 30.

For CDC, that could mean cutting the number of staff trying to halt the virus in Puerto Rico, Florida and elsewhere. For the NIH and BARDA, it could mean funding drying up for continued work on developing an effective Zika vaccine.

"In short," Burwell wrote, "allowing any of these scenarios to come to pass puts the American people needlessly at risk and will result in more Zika infections and potentially more babies being born with microcephaly, a rare congenital condition that can cause an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain, and other birth defects.

Obama administration to shift $81 million to fight Zika 08/11/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 11, 2016 4:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics


     Winner of the week

    Peter Antonacci. Gov. Rick Scott tapped his go-to utility player to lead his Florida job recruiting agency, Enterprise Florida, having previously picked him for his general counsel, to lead the South Florida Water Management District and to serve as Palm Beach state …

  2. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 19: A peregrina spends the whole day under the weather, and part of the day under the table


    Day 19: El Burgo Ranero to Puente Villarente: 25.4 km, 7.5 hours (Total for Days 1-19 = 454 km (282 miles)

    This list pretty much sums up my day:

    Eat two bananas

    Walk 13.1 kilometers


    Walk 6.2 kilometers


    Eat half an apple

    Walk 6.1 kilometers

    Crash< …

  3. Storm routs Cleveland


    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  4. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  5. Rowdies shut out Charleston


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.