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White House says COVID-19 money on ’empty’ as it ties approval to Ukraine aid

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The White House is warning that the U.S. will soon begin to run out of money for COVID-19 supplies unless Congress acts to approve more funding. 

Officials say more money is needed for antibody treatments, preventative pills and to fund testing sites. 

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“From the COVID side, the bank account is empty,” COVID-19 deputy coordinator Natalie Quillian said. “We’re in conversations with lawmakers about how to secure the funding, but it’s urgently needed.” Some of the consequences could be felt later this month.

“This is an urgent request and this is what is at stake in our fight against COVID,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.

A request sent to Congress from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seeks $22.5 million in immediate COVID-19 response needs with an ask for $10 billion to provide support to Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. 

“I urge the Congress to address these critical and urgent needs as part of a comprehensive government funding bill ahead of the March 11th funding deadline,” OMB acting Director Shalanda Young said in the Wednesday letter, noting that “additional needs may arise over time” due to the “rapidly evolving situation in Ukraine.” 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Friday, March 4, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Biden administration has warned that COVID-19 testing manufacturers will start to slow production of at-home rapid tests this month – unless the federal government signs contracts to purchase more.

The Health Resources and Services Administration will be forced to begin winding down claims for COVID-19 treatment for uninsured people this month in Congress doesn’t provide more money. The U.S. government supply of monoclonal antibodies would run out in May. 

“These resources are needed promptly to immediately secure supply of highly effective oral antiviral treatments; to purchase monoclonal antibodies and pre-exposure prophylaxis; to continue operating critical testing initiatives and funding testing, treatments and vaccines for the uninsured; to initiate work on a next-generation vaccine that protects against future variants; to accelerate global vaccination efforts and provide urgent humanitarian relief abroad; and for other purposes,” Young said. 

Should regulators make the Pfizer vaccine for children under age 5 a three-dose regimen, or if they determine kids aged 5-11 should get boosted, the administration would need more money.

CONGRESS CAN TALK A LOT ABOUT UKRAINE, BUT ITS POWER TO ACT IS LIMITED

However, lawmakers have struggled to reach a spending agreement for the current fiscal year and Republicans have expressed concerns over how much money would be spent towards pandemic relief. 

“Oh no, that’s too much,” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Thursday when asked about the administration’s $22.5 billion request. “And secondly, we want to see how much money is out there” that hasn’t been spent yet from previously approved COVID-19 funding.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and 35 other GOP senators wrote to President Biden on Tuesday saying they want a “full accounting” of how the government has spent funds already provided before supporting new money. 

The president signed the sweeping $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law last March without any support from Republicans. 

Now, the White House says it is open to exploring reallocating already-approved, unspent money – and potentially shifting the cost of shots and pills to insurers. But, it emphasized that the priority must be to continue to meet needs. 

“We are being reasonable in our urgent request now, but we know more will be needed,” said Quillian.

Since the pandemic’s start. COVID-19 relief bills have contained $370 billion for public health programs, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) table obtained by The Associated Press, $355 billion of which is currently being spent, has been spent or has been committed to contracts. 

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“The $22 billion for COVID is absolutely necessary; in fact, we probably will need more as we need more therapies,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.

Pelosi said she hopes Republicans will “see the wisdom of the science of what we need to do in terms of COVID,” according to The New York Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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