Why aren't billions of dollar in available tax money being used to fight Zika? That's what Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) are asking the Obama Administration in a new letter.
[quote]We urge you to act and use funding available to ensure our nation is prepared.--Senators' letter to HHS[/quote]
The Senators say Health and Human Services has been "slow to distribute" $589 million left over from the Ebola crisis. And they refer to a July letter previously noting that government officials have authority to transfer and reprogram money to respond. They say there are more than $20 billion in unobligated funds.
More than two thousand cases of Zika have been brought into the continental U.S. by people who traveled to impacted countries like Brazil. However, the Centers for Disease Control says relatively few are at risk in the continental U.S. for many reasons, including because only a few states have the kind of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika. So far, the CDC says two neighborhoods in Miami, Florida are the only places in the continental U.S. where Zika has been transmitted locally. It's presumed after people brought it into Miami, they were bitten by mosquitoes and then Zika was passed to others. There are a total of 29 cases reported in the Miami neighborhoods. The CDC says most people who get Zika never know it because they don't get sick and have no symptoms.
The CDC has linked a Zika form of birth defect. Other scientists differ on whether there's a connection.
"At the beginning of Fiscal Year 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services retained $25.426 billion in unobligated balances, and the department is expected to have $20.996 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2016," say Grassley and Lankford in their letter.
Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Lankford is a member of the Appropriations Committee.