Senators Press Obama Administration on Failure to Use Unobligated Funds to Fight Zika

By Lauretta Brown | August 30, 2016 | 2:56pm EDT
(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell Friday asking why the administration has not spent $20.996 billion in unobligated funds to respond to the Zika virus and why they have been slow to administer $510 million in unspent Ebola funding to respond to the outbreak.

The letter,
released Monday, pointed out that Secretary Burwell has the authority to “reprogram any current fiscal year bilateral economic aid to respond to Zika.”

“At the beginning of Fiscal Year 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services retained $25.426 billion in unobligated balances, and the department is expected to have $20.996 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2016,” the senators wrote.

The senators asked Burwell, in light of these facts, if these funds have been used for Zika response and “if not, please explain why and whether you have plans to do so, and if you believe every dollar spent in bilateral economic assistance to foreign countries is more important than protecting Americans from the Zika virus.”

The letter also pointed out that in April, the administration announced that “$589 ($510 million from unspent Ebola funding) million had been found available to be quickly redirected to be spent on a Zika response,” however “as of the first week of July, only $112 million – approximately one-fifth of the $589 million dollars available has been distributed.”

“Three months seems to be a long time to wait to respond to an impending outbreak,” the senators emphasized.

The senators also said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) have not responded to Grassley’s July 7 inquiry about the slow distribution of Zika prevention funds.

“Additionally, we hope that you will respond to Senator Grassley’s letter and explain why this administration seems to be caught flat footed in the response to this outbreak. After all, it is the mission of CDC and ASPR to protect the American people against such situations,” they wrote.

Lankford had
previously called on the Obama administration to use existing unobligated funds, in place of emergency funds to respond to Zika. Lankford offered an amendment in May to the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that would prioritize spending for a U.S. response to Zika through unused, unobligated money already budgeted.

The senators wrote that they shared Burwell’s concerns regarding the threat of Zika, which is why they were “concerned with
statements in the press that Zika money is running out.”

“The facts belie these statements,” they argued.

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