Zika Funding Stuck in Congress

By: Lily McManus, Lobbyists.info

Congress failed to authorize $1.1 billion in Zika funding before its seven-week recess after disagreement on a host of measures included in the latest version of an appropriations bill prevented its passage.

A conference report approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, “Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Zika Response Appropriations Act Final Conference Report” (H. Rept. 114-640), proposed to reconcile disagreements between the Senate and House on pending legislation (H.R. 2577) by allocating $1.1 billion to Zika-related activities, including $476 million to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the proposal included several contentious measures that prevented its passage in the Senate before the July 15 recess, including the reallocation of $107 million of Ebola funding, $540 million from Affordable Care Act programs and the lifting of environmental restrictions on pesticide use in order to kill Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

The Zika virus is primarily spread through bites from an infected Aedes species mosquito (which bite during the day and are present in southern and eastern states), but may also be spread through sexual activity, and has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly. Ongoing outbreaks in Puerto Rico and throughout Central and South American and the Caribbean have caused public health officials to plead for federal funding before the disease hits the United States, which is more likely now that mosquito season has arrived. As of August 3, 1,818 travel-acquired infections in the United States had been reported to CDC, and six that had been transmitted locally. In U.S. territories, 5,525 locally acquired cases and 23 travel-associated cases have been reported.

Emergency Appropriations

The Obama administration originally requested that Congress pass a $1.9 billion bill to fight Zika. Although Obama’s proposal would have redirected $600 million from Ebola funding, the bulk of the money would have been authorized as “emergency appropriations,” rather than repurposed from funds that had already been authorized for other uses. The funding would have supported efforts to develop vaccines, study the effects of the virus, eradicate mosquitoes and educate people on how to protect themselves.

The Senate approved a $1.1 bill in May, but the text of the bill has since undergone several changes — including budget cuts and policy revisions — that have prompted Democrats to block the bill from passing. A $622 million House bill, which was strongly opposed by the Administration, also was passed in May; the House bill would have pulled the majority of the funding from other programs like Ebola.

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