WASHINGTON — With no end in sight to the Zika funding standoff in Congress, the Obama administration is moving more money around to provide short-term relief so federal agencies can continue their fight against the virus.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced Thursday she will transfer $34 million within the National Institutes of Health and $47 million within the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to make sure neither agency has to delay its work on a Zika vaccine.
“With the actions described above, we have exhausted our ability to provide even short-term financing to help fight Zika,” Burwell said in a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The new money for NIH will allow the agency to begin planning a Phase 2 trial for its leading candidate for a Zika vaccine, a broader test following a more limited trial that began this month, Burwell wrote. BARDA will use the extra funds to start working with private sector partners to develop other vaccines.
But the amount of new funding — all of which is being taken out of other health programs at the agencies — is small compared with the amount the administration insists it needs to mount a full-scale defense against the spread of the Zika virus.
President Obama issued a request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding six months ago. A bill that would have provide $1.1 billion in funding later stalled in the Senate, just before lawmakers left town for a seven-week break.
Burwell says NIH will still need $196 million, and BARDA will require $342 million, in the next fiscal year to avoid more disruptions in their work.
“Our nation’s ability to mount the kind of Zika response that the American people deserve sits squarely with Congress,” Burwell wrote.
A top Republican lawmaker, however, said the announcement proved the administration has money it could have used the whole time.
“It is clear yet again, with the announcement today, that federal agencies do indeed have existing funds available within their budgets that can be re-directed to fight Zika. This has been the case all along, and it is disappointing that it has taken this long for this action to occur,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers said in a statement.
If the administration needs more money after this, Rogers said, it should urge the Senate to pass the Zika bill that failed before the congressional recess.
That bill stalled after Democrats objected to the cuts it would have mandated in other health programs and a provision that appeared to target Planned Parenthood. They’ve demanded a new bill or changes to the current one, but Republicans say they’ve already compromised enough.
Burwell made it clear that she’s not happy about having to move money out of other NIH programs at a time when lawmakers from both parties insist they want to give the agency more money for research into lifesaving cures.
“Reallocating NIH resources is not consistent with a strategy to provide maximum support to the important work that our nation’s leading scientists are performing, but the lack of a clean, bipartisan Zika funding bill has left me no choice,” Burwell wrote.