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Blunt Addresses Coronavirus Response Funding

February 25, 2020

WASHINGTON – At the weekly Republican leadership press conference today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor/HHS), said that Congress will work with the Trump administration to ensure the right amount of funding is available to meet coronavirus response needs.
As Labor/HHS chairman, Blunt created the Infectious Disease Fund to give HHS the flexibility to immediately respond to an infectious disease outbreak. At a Labor/HHS hearing Blunt chaired this morning, he questioned HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the administration’s use of the Infectious Disease Fund and its request for $2.5 billion in additional funding to respond to the coronavirus.
Following are Blunt’s Remarks:
“Yesterday, the White House sent up a $2.5 billion spending plan to respond to coronavirus. We had a hearing this morning with the Secretary of HHS, there was a briefing of all senators before that.
“Couple points to make, one is, in the 2019 spending bill, for the first time we gave HHS an Infectious Disease Fund that they have a lot of flexibility with --- $105 million. So that fund has not been exhausted yet, but beginning to see when it might be. The secretary has some transfer authority that would add another $136 million that the secretary can use without Senate, or House, or Congressional action. So we’re almost at a $250 million level of money immediately available.
“We don’t have all the time in the world, but I think we do have time to look at what will be the right number. If $2.5 billion is the right number, if the pay-fors for part of that are the right pay-fors. Secretary Azar, this morning, and others from the White House, yesterday and today, have assured me and have assured Chairman Shelby, and I think the House leaders as well, and Senator Leahy, that they’re going to be working with us to find that right number. We intend to do that.
“But in the near term, money is available to meet the immediate needs of beginning to deal with this health challenge. And we’re going to work with the White House, and we’ll decide the final number and we’ll decide the pay-fors and the secretary this morning was very clear that they understand that that’s how this process works.”

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