White House Says It’s Running Out of Money for Covid After Congress Reroutes Cash to Ukraine
President Joe Biden signed a funding bill into law Tuesday to keep the US government from shutting down through September, with the $1.5 trillion legislation including $13.6 billion in additional military and economic support for Ukraine amid the Russian special operation in the country.
The White House has announced that it will be “winding down” a range of COVID-related programmes, including efforts to detect new variants, and testing, treatment, vaccination and boosters for people without health insurance.
The move comes following Congress’s failure to add $22.5 billion in proposed Covid spending into the $1.5 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022. Biden made no mention of the coronavirus in his speech Tuesday after signing the bill into law, apart from a side remark about the need to “take on the challenges of mental health, which have been exacerbated because of the Covid problem.”
Republican lawmakers resisted adding new spending for the coronavirus into the appropriations bill, citing the lack of clarity about where many of the dollars already appropriated over the past two years have gone.
In a “fact sheet” put out on its website Tuesday, the White House lamented that “as we enter a new moment in the pandemic, Congress has not provided us with the funding we need to continue the COVID-19 response and minimize the pandemic’s impact to the nation and our economy.”
“With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months there could be increasing cases of Covid-19 here in the US as well. As the administration has warned, failure to fund these efforts now will have severe consequences as we will not be equipped to deal with a future surge. Waiting to provide funding once we’re in a surge will be too late,” the White House warned.
The administration emphasized that unless the requested cash was found and forked over, America “will not have enough additional boosters or variant specific vaccines, if needed, for all Americans.” Additionally, the government won’t have the money for monoclonal antibody treatments. On top of that, “the federal government will be unable to sustain the testing capacity we built over the last 14 months, as we head into the second half of the year.”
Commenting on the funding gap, White House Covid response deputy coordinator Natalie Quillian emphasized that the government was only asking for “a modest investment,” and said Americans needed “to remember the dark days and how quickly a variant can come.”
The government has spent over $6 trillion in Covid-19 related funding approved by Congress over the past two years, with Republicans in the Senate penning inquiries to the feds asking how much money was spent on each particular testing and vaccine programme, and whether any money has been left unspent, or promised but not disbursed.
The $13.6 billion in Ukraine aid, equivalent to nearly 1/10th of the country’s GDP, will include $3.5 billion for weaponry and other “defence supports,” $3 billion for the deployment of troops in countries near Ukraine, and about $3 billion for humanitarian assistance. Commenting on the spending in his speech Tuesday, President Biden hailed it as a victory in the effort “to further augment the support to the brave people of Ukraine.”