Congressional efforts to fund state and local distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine continued to be balanced on Monday, even as the first doses of Pfizer’s landmark vaccine were given.
Legislators have yet to agree on a funding package to support health departments in the unprecedented vaccination campaign, despite bipartisan agreements that billions of dollars are needed.
The funding negotiations were fraught with deadlocked talks over possible bills that would provide economic relief to millions of Americans who have suffered from the coronavirus-related financial crisis.
These talks, which seemed to be moving slowly over the past few weeks, have taken on a new urgency as the Christmas holidays approach and the reality of viable Covid-19 vaccines has set in.
However, earlier in the week it was not clear whether Congress would make significant progress in passing its first major aid package to Covid-19 since the $ 2.2 trillion CARES bill was passed in March.
The latest plan, which is part of a $ 908 billion bailout bill tabled by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, puts $ 6 billion in sales efforts. The legislature should publish a legislative text on Monday.
The $ 6 billion price tag is in line with the Trump administration’s requirements, but well below what groups of health departments consider necessary.
For months, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Association of Immunization Managers have been demanding that Congress allocate at least $ 8.4 billion.
“These funds are urgently needed to expand and strengthen federal, state, local, territorial and tribal capacities for a timely, comprehensive and equitable vaccine distribution campaign,” the groups wrote in October.
The groups said that the $ 200 million previously allocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a “down payment.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Senate in September that it would “take anywhere between $ 5.5 [billion] on $ 6 billion “to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine, saying the matter is” urgent. “
The Department of Health and Human Services, where the CDC is located, has not returned a request for comment on the state of the Congressional negotiations.
So far, the nature of the latest proposal to fund state and local vaccine distribution has only been published in summary form.
According to legislative summaries, the $ 908 billion package would provide $ 3.42 billion in direct grants to states and communities, $ 2.58 billion to fund CDC “vaccine distribution and infrastructure,” and $ 129 million for tribes and tribal organizations contain.
Claire Hannan, executive director of AIM, said her group was still learning the details of the $ 6 billion proposal, but that it looked promising that lawmakers would move the funds to distribute the vaccine from the funds for tracking and testing separated from contacts.
However, she cautioned against allocating less than needed to “programs with severe disabilities by registering more providers and expanding vaccination efforts”.
“Bottom line: If Congress doesn’t reach an agreement, we fear that the programs will not be able to expand their capacity to register additional providers, which means there could be fewer places and opportunities to vaccinate people and a longer period of time to emerge from this pandemic “, she said.
The bipartisan plan now under discussion was drawn up by a group of moderate senators from both major political parties and endorsed by the House Problem Solvers Caucus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer have tentatively approved the plan and identified it as a starting point for negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would be instrumental in getting laws passed, has yet to board. On Monday, however, McConnell described the vaccine distribution fund as “incredibly urgent”.
“This is the support that state and local governments need most,” McConnell said, saying the money would “vaccinate citizens now to end the fight.”
The ongoing negotiations go beyond funding vaccine distribution.
Unemployment benefits, which were expanded as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, will expire the day after Christmas, cutting payments to 12 million people. Each new deal is also expected to raise more funding for small businesses hit by the public health crisis.
Despite the widespread recognition that some sort of relief must be given, the barriers to reaching an agreement have remained largely unchanged for months.
Democrats have pushed for more spending and support to state and local governments facing budget crises as a result of the pandemic. Republicans largely oppose state and local aid, and have insisted that any deal include safeguarding businesses from liability claims arising from the crisis.
In addition to these sticking points, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a progressive, and Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a Conservative, have proposed a bill that does not include direct payment to Americans in that sense of the $ 1,200 stimulus- Checks sent out earlier this year. The $ 908 billion plan does not include direct payments.
So far, White House involvement has been limited, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has continued to negotiate with Pelosi.
President Donald Trump has shown little interest in reaching an agreement on Capitol Hill and has instead focused on his failed legal efforts to overthrow the 2020 election. If no agreement is reached in the coming weeks, the problem could soon be on President-elect Joe Biden’s plate.
Biden, who has already named several top doctors to positions in his administration, has signaled that distributing the Covid-19 vaccine will be a top priority for his administration in its first few days and is committed to 100 million doses in its first 100 days submit.
But Biden, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, has suggested that if Congress fails to reach an agreement, his plan could be foiled.
During an address in Wilmington, Delaware, Tuesday, the former vice president urged Congress to quickly fund sales efforts and warned that efforts after an early round of vaccination could slow and stall after an early round of vaccination. “
“Let me repeat, we need Congress to end the bipartisan work, or millions of Americans may be waiting months longer – months longer – than they would otherwise have to get their vaccinations,” Biden said.
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