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A fiscally responsible path to fighting Zika

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed that the Zika virus, transferred by mosquitos, can cause various forms of severe birth defects. With summer right around the corner, the Zika virus poses a substantial threat right in our own backyard.

The medical community currently lacks the resources it needs to adequately respond to the Zika virus. No vaccination or preventive medicine for Zika exists, and existing treatment options are severely limited. Due to the lack of treatment options available, President Obama has requested more than $1.5 billion in emergency funding to address the virus.

{mosads}Since no additional funding has yet been appropriated toward Zika, the President continues to portray Congress as the only thing holding the United States back from a recovery effort. This is a mischaracterization of the facts.

When the first reports of Ebola surfaced in March of 2014, Congress appropriated $5.4 billion through Fiscal Year 2015 as part of an end of year spending package. The funds were designated for specific purposes such as developing treatments, purchasing equipment, and training healthcare workers.

At the time, the Ebola crisis reached far more serious levels than that of Zika. However, the Ebola battle is now completed, and over half of the delegated funding for Ebola remains unused. As of January 1, 2016, the Office of Management and Budget reported over $2.7 billion of Ebola funds as uncommitted.

The excess $2.7 billion is broken down between Health and Human Services ($1.45 billion) and the State Department ($1.3 billion). While any redistribution of the State Department funding would require congressional approval, reallocating the HHS portion of funding toward Zika could happen almost immediately, as it was originally designed for Ebola “and other infectious diseases.”

Congress stands ready to support the reallocation of these valued resources to address the health and safety concerns of Zika. These unused $1.45 billion of Ebola funds from HHS could play a key role in efforts to control and respond to the Zika threat. Furthermore, even if those funds failed to meet the needs of the medical community, Congress has the option to reprogram the additional $1.3 billion from the State Department toward Zika response. Transferring these idle funds is a viable option toward fighting Zika in a fiscally responsible way.

It is true that our government can play a unique role in addressing the Zika outbreak. However, the President is incorrect to characterize Congress as sitting on its hands while the world waits for action. An effective and responsible path already exists, and it involves transferring existing, unobligated funds toward Zika control so that the medical community can access the resources it needs. Tackling this issue in this manner protects the hard working tax payers while keeping our communities safe from this potential threat

Meadows (R-NC) serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


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