Covid News: Senators announce smaller aid proposal without global vaccine funds

Credit…Aaron Ufumeli/EPA, via Shutterstock

Senators on Monday announced agreement on a $10 billion coronavirus relief package to provide additional aid to national testing, vaccination and treatment efforts, after dropping an effort to include billions for the global immunization effort.

The agreement requires that at least $5 billion be set aside for therapeutics and $750 million for research and clinical trials to prepare future variants. The remaining funds will be used for vaccines and testing.

It does not include $5 billion in funding for the global vaccine effort that had previously been proposed, after senators spent the weekend haggling over a Republican demand to claw back the money Congress had previously approved. .

The package was announced by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Majority Leader, and Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. Both have been conducting negotiations in recent days. In a statement, Schumer said President Biden supported the deal, even though it was less than half of the White House’s original $22.5 billion request.

“This $10 billion Covid package will give the federal government — and our citizens — the tools we need to continue our economic recovery, keep schools open and keep American families safe,” Schumer said in a statement. “Although this emergency injection of additional funds is badly needed, it falls far short of what is really needed to protect us from the Covid-19 virus in the long term.”

He added that he anticipates additional bipartisan negotiations on another emergency aid package that could include both aid for the global vaccination effort and additional aid for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion.

“Every dollar we’ve asked for is essential, and we’ll continue to work with Congress to get all the funding we need, but time is running out,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. a statement. “We urge Congress to act quickly on this $10 billion package so it can begin funding the most immediate needs, as we are currently at risk of missing some critical tools like treatments and testing from of May and June.”

Domestic spending is paid for largely by reallocating unspent money that was approved in March 2021 in the $1.9 trillion pandemic bill that Democrats pushed through without a Republican vote, plus some funds of the $2.2 trillion law approved under the Trump administration, a key Republican demand.

Among the programs and agencies involved are a grant program for closed sites, the economic disaster loan program, the Emergency Relief Fund for higher education, as well as funding for agriculture and transport. , according to summaries provided by the two offices.

In a separate statement, Romney called for the legislation to receive broad bipartisan support and added that he was “willing to explore a fiscally responsible solution to support global efforts in the weeks ahead.”

Lawmakers are pushing to push through the aid package before the end of the week, when both chambers are due to leave for a two-week break. It’s unclear if there will be enough support for such a quick timeline, given that Senate Democrats are aiming to confirm Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court this week and all 100 lawmakers are expected to agree to lift the hurdles. procedures to speed up the process.

Several House Democrats have also expressed frustration over the omission of global vaccine assistance, which is central to Mr. Biden’s strategy to reduce vaccine inequity and limit the impact of the upcoming variant of the coronavirus.

“Without global funding for immunization, we simply aren’t tackling the COVID problem,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Twitter.

Several Democrats, however, said the urgent need to provide domestic aid was enough to warrant their support.

“I understand that national public health spending is also urgently needed, and so I intend to vote for this bill,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and one of the negotiators, in a press release. “However, this is only a partial step, and I will be pushing my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a robust international funding bill in the coming weeks to address pandemic-related needs and the growing global hunger and food security crisis.”

Recent efforts to pass an initial $15.6 billion Covid package crumbled last month when House Democrats balked at recovering money that had been set aside for state governments in the law of Last year.

These funds have remained intact in the current plan. But the measure also includes a bipartisan bill, led by Senators John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, that will give state, local and tribal governments more flexibility in how aid to coronaviruses is spent.

While access to vaccines has gradually expanded around the world, administering vaccines remains a challenge. According to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

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