Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Lawmakers Release Emergency Funding Request on Coronavirus

Mar 4, 2020 | Health Care

Appropriators released today their $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak, $5.8 billion more than the $2.5 billion in funding the White House requested last week. It is expected to be voted on in the House later today and go to the Senate and the White House as soon as this week.

Of the funding, $3.1 billion would go to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund at the Department of Health and Human Services for research and development of vaccines, tests, and other treatments, and the purchase of medical supplies and medical surge capacity. Another $2.2 billion would go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support federal, state, and local health agencies in responding to the virus, including reimbursing states and local governments for costs already incurred. Healthcare preparedness, such as drugs, masks and medical supplies to distribute to health agencies is another nearly $1 billion, along with additional funding for Community Health Centers in underserved areas. Finally, $1.25 billion would go to the State Department and US Agency for International Development to support embassies around the world, humanitarian aid, and to support health systems overseas.  The Small Business Administration would also be authorized to make loans to businesses impacted by the virus.

The funding is all new money, as opposed to the President’s request which had been funded half by transfers from other accounts.

Category Cost
Research and development for vaccines, testing, and other treatments $3.1 billion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including state and local preparedness  $2.2 billion
Healthcare preparedness, medical supplies, and Community Health Centers $1 billion
State Department funding for health response overseas, including evacuations and aid $1.25 billion
Medicare providers can provide telehealth services regardless of whether the beneficiary is in a rural community $0.5 billion
Other spending $0.2 billion
Total  $8.3 billion

Source: House Committee on Appropriations, Congressional Budget Office. $8.3 billion is the total amount of budget authority, mostly allocated in FY 2020. CBO projects that some of the money would never be spent, and that outlays will increase by $8.1 billion, nearly all by FY 2022.

The request undeniably passes the five-part test for what emergency designations are intended: the coronavirus outbreak was sudden and unforeseen, and the additional funding is urgent, temporary, and necessary to counteract a potential global health crisis. The outbreak of coronavirus illustrates why an emergency designation exists in the legislative process: to circumvent normal budget procedures and pass funding quickly. Unfortunately in other cases, this designation has sometimes been abused to pay for non-emergency matters and get around discretionary spending caps.

While the coronavirus outbreak is a genuine emergency, this request will add to budget deficits and it would be preferable if Congress and the President could quickly agree to a package of offsets to mitigate the cost, perhaps later in the year.

Emergencies like this are an example of why the country needs to be on sounder fiscal ground. While this request is relatively small and tailored to meet a quickly developing public health problem, our current debt trajectory would make it more difficult to ask for larger emergency funding requests if needed for a war, recession, or other national crisis. Getting our fiscal house in order would help better prepare the country to respond to future urgent matters as they arise.