Senators Lankford, Grassley Press Obama Administration on Whether Available Funds Will be Directed to Zika Response

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are pressing the Obama Administration on why it appears that billions of dollars in unobligated funds aren’t being directed to a Zika response.

“We urge you to act and use funding available to ensure our nation is prepared,” Lankford and Grassley wrote to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

Lankford and Grassley noted that the Administration has been slow to distribute $589 million left from the Ebola threat toward fighting Zika. Also, House and Senate appropriators noted in a July 14 letter to President Obama that the Administration has transfer authority that can be used as an additional source for Zika preparedness. In addition, the Secretary of State has the authority to reprogram any current fiscal year bilateral economic aid to respond to Zika.

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, Lankford and Grassley wrote.

The senators also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) have not responded to Grassley’s inquiry on July 7 on the slow distribution of Zika prevention funds. “Additionally, we hope that you will respond to Senator Grassley’s letter and explain why this administration seems to be caught flat footed in the response to this outbreak. After all, it is the mission of CDC and ASPR to protect the American people against such situations,” Lankford and Grassley wrote.

Lankford and Grassley asked for an explanation of whether the Administration has used its authority to transfer current-year funds under the bilateral economic assistance heading toward a Zika response and if not, why. They asked whether there is a legal impediment to using unobligated funds to respond to Zika and whether the Administration has prioritized Zika research and prevention over less pressing projects and if not, why.

The Lankford-Grassley letter is available here. Grassley is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Lankford is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Lankford has repeatedly called on the Obama Administration to use existing unobligated funds, instead of emergency funds to address the Zika issue. On May 18, Lankford offered an amendment to the Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that would prioritize spending for a US response to Zika through unused and unobligated money already budgeted. On May 12, Senator Lankford delivered a speech on the Senate floor  to urge Congress to prioritize spending with already-appropriated funding for a Zika response. Lankford also wrote an op-ed on May 10 about the importance of avoiding emergency spending.