Bradley Byrne to Barack Obama: use unspent Zika funds

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As the Zika virus continues to spread across the country, the Obama Administration is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars intended to fight the virus.

Alabama 1st District U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne wants to change that.

Wednesday, Byrne sent a letter to President Barack Obama calling on his administration to use the unspent money fighting the virus rather than continuing to try and score political points.

Zika Mosquitos

Click to enlarge. [Graphic Credit: CQ Roll Call | Randy Leonard]

“The Zika virus is a real and serious threat to the United States, especially here on the Gulf Coast, ” said Byrne. “It is incredibly troubling that the Obama Administration is sitting on unspent funds that could be used to fight the Zika virus right now, but they are instead spending all their time trying to score political points.”

In April, the Obama Administration announced that $589 million in mostly unspent money from the Ebola disease would be redirected to combat the Zika virus. As of last Friday, the Office of Management and Budget confirmed that $385 million of that money remains unspent.

Despite its failure to spend the money it has available, the Obama Administration continues to demand Congress approve a $1.9 billion anti-Zika plan they submitted in February that includes no funding offsets. Instead of using Obama’s plan, the House passed a $1.1 billion funding bill to address the virus, but the bill was blocked by Senate Democrats and did not pass before the Congressional summer recess.

In recent days, Florida state health officials have confirmed nearly 15 cases of the virus being transmitted within the United States. On Monday, federal officials issued an unprecedented warning, advising pregnant women and their sexual partners to avoid an area north of Miami’s downtown.

Administration officials say this increases the urgency for more funding.

Byrne agrees.

“Additional funding is necessary, and I continue to call on the Senate to pass our responsible $1.1 billion package to help with Zika prevention, research, and treatment,” continued Byrne. “However, until the process moves forward, the Obama Administration should use the money they have available right now.”

Read Byrne’s full letter below:

Dear President Obama:

As the representative of a district threatened by the Zika virus, I am writing to express my great concern at your Administration’s allocation of resources to combat Zika. Since February, you have urged Congress to appropriate $1.9 billion to combat Zika. Congressional Republicans joined your call for an immediate response to this crisis; however, at a time when this country is $19 trillion in debt, my colleagues and I have simply asked that any funding be targeted and offset from other spending. To that end, House Republicans requested the large amount of money left over from the Ebola threat be used to address the Zika virus.

I was pleased your Administration announced on April 6, 2016 that $589 million, the majority of which was unspent Ebola funding, would be redirected to combat the Zika virus. However, as of last Friday, the Office of Management and Budget confirmed that of this $589 million, $385 million is unspent. Astonishingly, as your demand for $1.9 billion continues, 65 percent of the funds already available to the Administration for Zika have not been used.

Now, in the nearly four months since April 6, the Zika threat is upon us. Zika has reached Florida and may spread into Alabama soon. For the first time in history, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel warning inside the continental United States for pregnant women.  Moreover, in Puerto Rico, positive tests of the virus have jumped from 14 percent in February to 64 percent in June, and 2 percent of the island’s blood supply has tested positive for the Zika virus.

I agree that additional funding is necessary, which is why the House passed a $1.1 billion bill on a bipartisan basis to fund Zika prevention, treatment, and research. Despite the fact our bill includes the same level of funding that previously received overwhelming support in the Senate, our bill has fallen victim to a filibuster by Senate Democrats. It seems that some people are more interested in using the Zika virus as a tool to score political points on the campaign trail instead of actually working to address the serious issue.

The threat of Zika is too important to the people of Alabama and other southern states for the current situation to continue. I urge you to take immediate action to ensure the available funding resources are swiftly and properly allocated by federal agencies to combat the Zika threat.

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