Senator Calls for Emergency Funding to Help State and Local Health Departments Keep up With Outbreak

WASHINGTON, D.C. [02/03/20]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) is calling on the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee to quickly provide emergency funding to the depleted Public Health Emergency Fund (PHEF) so that state and local health departments aren’t overwhelmed by the emerging coronavirus outbreak. 

Sen. Smith—a member of the Senate Health Committee—says that PHEF, a critical source of funding for public health emergencies, was depleted in 2012. 

“Though our federal public health response has been adequately surveilling, screening, and testing for the virus, now is the time to ensure that our states and localities are equally prepared to respond,” wrote Sen. Smith. “As this emergency response evolves, states and localities may foot the bill for medical screening, countermeasures, deployment of medical therapeutics, and quarantine procedures. At the same time, they will be expected to maintain their existing public health infrastructure. Federal support would help relieve some of this state and local investment.”

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus epidemic an international public health emergency. The following day, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a public health emergency. 

You can read the full text of the letter below:  

February 3, 2020

The Honorable Roy Blunt                                          The Honorable Patty Murray
Chairman                                                                    Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human             Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human
Services, Education and Related Agencies                Services, Education and Related Agencies
United States Senate                                                   United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510                                              Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray,

I write to request emergency appropriations for the Public Health Emergency Fund (PHEF) in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Without funding, state and local health departments may not have the resources they need to keep up with the emerging outbreak. 

On January 9, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a novel coronavirus was identified and associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.  Over the past month, suspected cases rose drastically with over 17,000 individuals confirmed to be infected and over 360 deaths to date. The number of confirmed cases has passed that of previous coronavirus outbreaks, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The United States is among 27 countries impacted by this virus and is one of the first countries outside of China to report human-to-human transmission to a patient that did not travel to China. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus epidemic an international public health emergency. One day later, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency to aid in the federal response to the coronavirus. 

Though our federal public health response has been adequately surveilling, screening, and testing for the virus now is the time to ensure that our states and localities are equally prepared to respond.  As this emergency response evolves, states and localities may foot the bill for medical screening, countermeasures, deployment of medical therapeutics, and quarantine procedures. At the same time, they will be expected to maintain their existing public health infrastructure. Federal support would help relieve some of this state and local investment.   

One critical source of funding for public health emergencies is the Public Health Emergency Fund (PHEF). For over 20 years, Congress has not appropriated funding for this program. In 2012, this fund was depleted and is no longer available to assist state and local public health departments to keep up with public health emergency surveillance and response, such as the increased demand in screening and testing of suspected cases of coronavirus. 

As this outbreak is rapidly evolving and public health experts learn more about the novel coronavirus, it is critical that we take swift action. We must support state and local health departments to remain vigilant in the face of an infectious disease that we know little about. I urge you to provide strong funding to address preparedness for the coronavirus outbreak and future public health concerns. Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Issues