WASHINGTON — The latest round of Covid-19 relief could include a dramatic increase in new funding for public health initiatives, according to draft legislation released Monday by Senate Republicans.
The proposed bill includes $20 billion for BARDA, the pandemic-response agency, to advance the development of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics, as well as $6 billion to coordinate vaccine distribution efforts through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bill, authored largely by the Senate’s GOP majority, also includes $16 billion for Covid-19 testing, an additional $3.4 billion for the CDC, $2 billion to supplement the Strategic National Stockpile of protective gear and medical supplies, $7.6 billion for community health centers, and a new $25 billion fund to bail out cash-strapped health providers.
While Democrats are likely to vocally resist many elements of the GOP bill, including significantly reduced unemployment benefits for millions left jobless as a result of Covid-19, it is unlikely that they would push for less funding for health programs. In a recent House bill, Democrats included $75 billion for testing and contact tracing. Earlier this month, Senate Democrats demanded $25 billion for a vaccine-distribution program, more than triple the amount the Republican plan proposes.
Congress is likely to pass a version of the bill in the next week. Supplemental unemployment benefits that millions of Americans have relied on throughout the pandemic are set to expire after July, and lawmakers have separately faced pressure to fund additional testing and vaccine-development efforts as Covid-19 continues to spread unabated in many parts of the country.
The proposed legislation includes $15.5 billion to the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research, much of which has been disrupted by the forced hiatus at many universities and research centers. It also includes $4.5 billion for substance abuse and mental health initiatives, including emergency grants to states.
More than $10 billion of the research money, according to a bill summary, is an effort to restart much of the research conducted by the NIH that the pandemic has put on pause. Another $1.24 billion is earmarked for ACTIV, a public-private partnership through which numerous pharmaceutical companies have worked with NIH on vaccine and therapeutic development.
The numbers, in many cases, are staggering: The $15.5 billion for NIH represents nearly 40% of the agency’s annual funding allocation. BARDA’s $20 billion plus-up is even more extreme: In 2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the agency received just shy of $1.4 billion in funding.