Enacted bill includes pandemic, food safety money

Mar 12, 2009 (CIDRAP News) – In passing a huge spending bill this week to cover the next 6 months, Congress approved pandemic preparedness funds that had been proposed by former President Bush and increased appropriations for food safety, according to a health advocacy group.

The $410 billion bill was passed by the Senate Feb 10, following earlier House approval, and signed by President Barack Obama yesterday. It funds numerous government agencies for the rest of fiscal year 2009, which ends Sep 30.

The measure includes more than $700 million in pandemic spending that Bush had sought for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but none of that is for state and local public health agencies, according to Richard Hamburg, government affairs director for the nonprofit group Trust for America's Health.

The bill also includes $648.7 million for food safety efforts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which represents a $141 million increase from the 2008 level, Hamburg reported. In addition, Congress approved $971.5 million for the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), an increase of $41 million over the 2008 amount, he said.

The HHS pandemic funding includes $425 million for vaccine production capacity, $42 million for production of egg-based vaccines, and $40 million for medical countermeasures for HHS staff members and contractors, according to Hamburg.

Also included is $156 million for ongoing pandemic-related activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is $1.4 million more than the agency received in 2008, he said. In addition, the office of the HHS secretary is to receive $78 million for pandemic activities, up from $75 million in 2008, he said.

Hamburg said he hadn't seen the breakdown of amounts for other agencies, but he expects that the FDA and the National Institutes of Health will get about the same amounts of pandemic-related funding as in 2008—$38 million and $34 million, respectively.

Also included in the legislation is $3 million for research by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on flu transmission and respiratory protection from flu viruses, Hamburg reported. The bill calls for NIOSH to evaluate filtering facepiece respirators and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and to work on designing the next generation of PPE, he said.

He noted that the allocation follows an Institute of Medicine report in 2008 that cited a critical need for more information on airborne transmission of flu. He didn't think the money was part of the Bush administration's 2009 budget proposal.

On the food safety front, the $141 million increase for the FDA goes mainly to the agency's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), according to Hamburg. Overall, the FDA is getting a $325 million budget increase from 2008, which raises its total funding for 2009 to nearly $2 billion, he said.

A CFSAN spokesman said today he had no information yet on how the increased funding for food safety will be spent.

As for the proposed 2010 budget, the Obama administration has released only a general outline so far; said Hamburg: "We expect to see more detailed information on pandemic [funding] in early April."

Pandemic preparedness advocates had hoped Congress would include pandemic funds for state and local health departments in the economic stimulus bill passed in February. The House approved $900 million for that purpose, but it was stripped from the final bill.

See also:

Feb 13 CIDRAP News story "Stimulus bill headed for passage minus pandemic funds"

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