Coronavirus: US house passes $8bn emergency funding deal

With overwhelming bipartisan support, the bill could now come up for a vote in the Senate as early as Thursday, before being signed by the president

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 04 March 2020 19:19 GMT
Coronavirus cases: The spread outside China

The US House of Representatives has passed the $8.3bn bipartisan bill for emergency funding to fight the coronavirus with overwhelming support from both parties.

The 415-2 vote was passed by the House just hours after members of both chambers struck a deal agreeing the emergency funding.

The bill must now pass the Senate before President Donald Trump can sign it. Senate leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that their goal was to get legislation done this week. It could come up for a vote as early as Thursday.

“This should not be about politics; this is about doing our job to protect the American people from a potential pandemic,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby in a press release announcing that lawmakers had come to an agreement.

The Trump administration had initially only asked for $2.5bn, whereas the agreed package provides $7.8bn for government agencies directly confronting the virus, and authorises approximately $500m over a 10-year period to be used towards a remote healthcare programme, NBC News reports.

Health officials have been calling for quick action to counter the spread of the virus, which has now killed 11 Americans. The rapid pace of negotiations recognised the urgency of the situation.

Shortly after the announcement of the deal it was revealed that California had seen its first death from the deadly virus, the first American fatality outside Washington state.

The victim was elderly and had an underlying health condition, Pacer County health officials said.

“We worked together to craft an aggressive and comprehensive response that provides the resources the experts say they need to combat this crisis. I thank my colleagues for their cooperation and appreciate President Trump’s eagerness to sign this legislation and get the funding out the door without delay,” Mr Shelby added.

The president has said that he would spend whatever is appropriate to combat the spread of the virus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed the agreement for allowing Congress to deliver the "coordinated, whole-of-government response needed to keep Americans safe".

A House Democratic aide told CNBC that the proposal includes more than $3bn dedicated to the research and development of vaccines, as well as therapeutics and diagnostics. A further $2.2bn in public health funding will aid in prevention, preparedness, and response efforts, including $950m to support state and local agencies.

Nearly $1bn is intended to go towards medical supplies, health care preparedness, community health centres and medical surge capacity. The bill also earmarks $1.25bn to address the coronavirus overseas through US AID, and increases the cap on evacuations from $10m to $100m. There is a further plan to use the Small Business Administration to provide low interest loans to suffering businesses.

Finally, $300m will “help ensure that, when a vaccine is developed, Americans can receive it regardless of their ability to pay,” the aide said.

This is understood to have been a point of contention between Republican and Democrat lawmakers, the former arguing that the latter was trying to impose price controls.

When questioned on vaccine affordability last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar angered Democrats by suggesting that a coronavirus vaccine might not be affordable for all Americans and that a price cap would harm private sector investment in research.

Senator McConnell argues that procedures already exist so the government can buy and distribute new medicines in scenarios like this to ensure accessibility.

To date there have been 138 cases recorded in the US, a number which is predicted to rise dramatically in the coming days.

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