The White House submitted a request to Congress on Monday for $2.5 billion in supplemental spending to help combat the global coronavirus outbreak. The request included $1.25 billion in new money, with the rest coming from unspent funds. The measure would help the federal government, as well as state and local agencies, potentially prepare to respond to an outbreak and allocate cash for vaccine development, a senior administration official told Fox Business. One source familiar with the request told Fox News that the administration was careful “not to sound alarm bells” over the supplemental spending request, but added, “It is better to have, certainly with finite funds.” The Department of Health and Human Services already has tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and has been seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but was pressing for more. Among the needs: funding to reimburse the Pentagon, which has been housing evacuees from China — required to undergo 14-day quarantines — at several military bases in California. Democrats controlling the House wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar earlier this month to request funds to help speed up the development of a coronavirus vaccine, expand laboratory capacity and beef up screening efforts at U.S. entry points. Azar is slated to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, and the U.S. response to the outbreak is sure to be a major topic. The White House budget office, led by Russell Vought, has been working with HHS to shape the request. There’s been a receptive audience for the request on Capitol Hill, though stand-alone emergency spending bills can be tricky to pass since they could be a target for lawmakers seeking add-ons. The quickly spreading virus has slammed the economy of China, where the virus originated, and cases have been increasing rapidly in countries such as South Korea, Iran and Italy.
This is smart, getting ahead of the problem by requesting the funds that’ll be needed to battle this coronavirus. For now, all travel to and from China should be suspended entirely.