April 5 (UPI) — Bipartisan congressional negotiators announced Monday they have reached a deal to supply $10 billion in additional funding for the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group headed by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the funding for “urgent COVID needs and therapeutics” will be accomplished by repurposing unspent funds primarily from last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
The Biden administration had requested $22.5 billion in additional funding for the pandemic response while warning that dwindling funds had forced the government to stop reimbursing healthcare providers for treating the uninsured, among other consequences.
“After working through the weekend, Sen. Romney and I have reached an agreement on a bipartisan COVID-19 Supplemental Appropriations package that will provide the Biden Administration with urgently needed funding to purchase vaccines and therapeutics, maintain access to testing and accelerate the work on next generation vaccine research,” Schumer said in a statement.
The package, he said, will give the country “the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe,” but added that while the package is “absolutely necessary, it is well short of what is truly needed to keep us safe from the COVID-19 virus over the long-term.”
“From the beginning, Senate Republicans have insisted that any new requests from the administration for COVID funding be paid for by repurposing existing funds from the nearly $6 trillion in COVID legislation that the Senate has already passed,” Romney said. “Today’s agreement does just that by repurposing $10 billion to provide needed domestic COVID health response tools.”
Half of the funding will be used for the development and purchase of therapeutics, “potentially eliminating the need for future vaccine and mask mandates,” Romney said, adding the measure “will not cost the American people a single additional dollar” due to its offsets.
“We are grateful for the Senate’s work on a bipartisan plan to help meet some of the country’s COVID-19 response needs,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said while reiterating that “every dollar” of the original request “is essential.”
“We urge Congress to move promptly on this $10 billion package because it can begin to fund the most immediate needs, as we currently run the risk of not having some critical tools like treatments and tests starting in May and June,” she said.
Biden and Democratic lawmakers made a major concession in agreeing to eliminate funding for global pandemic aid, which they contended is critical to protect Americans from the emergence of new, potentially dangerous variants in other countries.
“While this agreement does not include funding for the U.S. global vaccination program, I am willing to explore a fiscally-responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead,” Romney said.