Congress slashes pandemic preparedness funding

Dec 20, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The 2008 omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this week earmarks only $76 million for influenza pandemic preparedness funding, far below the Bush administration's $870 million request.

The President's advisors have indicated he will sign the bill when it reaches his desk, according to several media reports.

The reduction in pandemic preparedness funding appears to be the most significant cut to President Bush's spending proposals, Government Executive reported yesterday.

The House and Senate appropriations committees said their rationale for cutting the 2008 pandemic preparation budget was based on a $1.2 billion amount remaining from previous appropriations, according Government Executive.

However, Rich Hamburg, director of governmental relations for Trust for America's Health (TFAH), a nonprofit health advocacy group based in Washington, DC, told CIDRAP News that the $1.2 billion represents one-time funding that is mostly intended for buying vaccines and antiviral medications.

The 2008 omnibus bill contains no one-time spending items, he said. "The appropriations committees may have thought that this was a tough budget and that it was hard to make a case that all of the pandemic funding was needed right now," Hamburg said.

To maintain momentum on pandemic preparedness efforts, Congress could fold the funding into the 2009 budget or put budget requests into emergency supplements, Hamburg said.

In the past, some public health officials have argued that emergency supplemental funding has a downside for local preparedness efforts, because reliable funding is needed to boost local public health capacity and provide more "boots on the ground" to respond to emergencies.

Other cuts that affect pandemic preparedness include a $6 million reduction in the $53 million requested for the National Disaster Medical System, an office of the US Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) that helps state and local officials manage the medical impact of major disasters, Government Executive reported.

The approved funding includes the administration's $158 million request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's pandemic preparations, but Hamburg said even that amount was subject to a 1.74% spending cut applied to all domestic programs.

In its annual report on state and federal preparedness programs, released 2 days ago, TFAH said funding shortfalls at the federal level threaten to derail or reverse progress states have made in boosting the nation's public health emergency preparedness.

TFAH reported that even the Bush administration's 2008 request for $870 million represented a 25% cut from 2005 public health preparedness funding levels.

"Although the federal government has made a substantial investment in public health and pandemic preparedness, the funding has been inconsistent and unpredictable," the group said.

See also:

Dec 18 TFAH press release, with links to complete report
http://healthyamericans.org/reports/bioterror07/

HHS budget request briefing document (with emergency preparedness information on page 102)
http://www.hhs.gov/budget/08budget/2008BudgetInBrief.pdf

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