While working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services is currently being forced to shift money from other activities. Congress will surely provide emergency supplemental funding now that the administration has requested additional resources.
The good news is that Congress authorized a Public Health Emergency Fund for exactly this purpose—in 1983. The account is still in existence, and just last year, Congress updated its authorizing statute with enhanced criteria outlining when and how the fund should be used, and embedding it with oversight mechanisms to ensure it meets congressional intent. It was tailor-made for exactly the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Unfortunately, the last infusion of funds into the account was 20 years ago.
We do not need to reinvent the wheel by creating new funds—we simply need to rectify the disconnect between authorization and appropriations and use the tools already at our disposal. New funds appropriated for the coronavirus emergency response should be put into the Public Health Emergency Fund. The fund provides no-year money that can be carried over if it is not needed right away; enables HHS to make grants, enter into contracts, and conduct investigations pertaining to public health emergencies; can be used to strengthen biosurveillance and laboratory capacity.
Read the full story by Jennifer B. Alton and Ellen P. Carlin at The Hill