CHN: Funding for Emergencies: Lead Poisoning, Opioids and Zika

While Congress continues to refuse to respond to several emergency situations, advocates and the Obama Administration continue to push legislators to address them. Last Wednesday, the White House announced that $589 million would be redirected from Ebola funding to fight the Zika virus. Republican leaders had called for this transfer, which was initially opposed by the Administration because the need for Ebola prevention and treatment remains great. The urgent need to combat Zika caused the Administration to use these funds, but it continued to push Congress to approve its request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the disease. As CHN noted in this blog post, major cuts to public health funding have left health departments unable to deal with a serious outbreak of the Zika virus, which has a potentially disparate impact on low-income people.
Advocates greeted the Senate’s return last week with a renewed push for the chamber to pass a bill to provide nearly $250 million to assist with the repair of water infrastructure in Flint and other localities affected by lead-contaminated water. Many advocates felt it was unconscionable that the Senate had left town for a two week Easter break without first acting on the Drinking Water Safety and Infrastructure Act (S.2579) to help the affected communities. Advocates also continue working to ensure the federal government acts to protect all children and families in federal housing programs from lead poisoning by supporting the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act of 2016.

And while Congress rejected a measure to provide $600 million in emergency funding to address addition to opioids, a class of drug that includes certain prescription painkillers and heroin, President Obama spoke at a prescription drug and heroin abuse summit. While the White House is acting to provide some additional funding to combat the epidemic, especially in underserved communities, the funding it can provide is far short of the $1.1 billion President Obama included in his FY17 budget request for this fight.

For additional information on these three emergency situations, see our March 14 Human Needs Report.

As CHN previously noted, Republican leaders in Congress have repeatedly insisted on finding cuts in federal spending to cover the cost of responding to emergencies like these. However, Congress is legally allowed to provide funds for emergencies without having to pay for urgently needed services and has done so many times in the past. Congress’ insistence on offsetting funding now is considered by many advocates to be short-sighted and damaging to the Americans affected by these crises.

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