On Monday night, after a weekend of new international outbreaks of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus and growing concerns over a potential pandemic, the Trump administration sent Congress a $2.5 billion supplemental request for funding to fight the spread of the virus and for vaccine development research.
According to the Washington Post, as part of the request, the administration plans to mobilize $535 million set aside for the 2014 Ebola outbreak, in addition to a $1.25 billion lump sum for the Department of Health and Human Services. Of that new money, Politico reports that $1 billion would be allocated to vaccine development research; the remainder would be reserved for response items including lab tests, quarantine costs, and support for states dealing with significant numbers of cases.
“The Trump Administration continues to take the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease very seriously,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget, in a statement.
But according to public health experts and former Health and Human Services officials, the $2.5 billion budget request is not enough to adequately handle the global health emergency. Former Trump administration HHS deputy assistant secretary Chris Meekins has suggested that $15 billion would be more appropriate, with $3 billion required for vaccine development. Adriane Casalotti, an official at the National Association of County and City Health Officials, called for Trump to allocate $3.1 million to prepare — not including costs related to vaccine research. As a point of comparison, the Obama White House requested $6.2 billion in emergency funding in 2014 to handle the Ebola outbreak, and eventually received $5.4 billion.
As Politico notes, House Democrats were also underwhelmed by the Trump administration’s number:
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.”
The request comes the day of a 1,000-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average — the 3.5 percent dip represented the market’s largest single-day percentage decline in two years. With the global number of cases north of 80,000, the Trump administration is now considering the political ramifications of an outbreak in the U.S. in an election year. Though only 25 domestic cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and the CDC states that COVID-19 “is NOT currently spreading in the community in the United States,” Trump is reportedly worried that an outbreak could hurt his chances at reelection.