WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, and Cory Booker today joined several colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Many state and local health departments and hospitals have helped support the transportation and quarantine efforts, and it is important they be notified of the criteria by which the department will ask them to document and report what resources they contributed to the federal response for reimbursement,” the senators wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “In response to previous public health emergencies, federal funding was distributed to state and local efforts that directly supported federal activities.”
State and local health agencies and first responders in New Jersey responded last Friday when a cruise ship docked in Bayonne carrying several people who had recently been in China requiring additional screening and testing. Some were transported to a local hospital for further evaluation, but all tests came back negative.
The federal government has also designated Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to assist in quarantine efforts, and Newark Liberty International Airport as one of 11 U.S. airports accepting passengers who have recently traveled from China.
Sens. Menendez and Booker successfully pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to step up passenger screenings for coronavirus at Newark Liberty Airport, the nation’s fifth busiest.
On Monday, Sen. Menendez joined State Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli, chair of the New Jersey Coronavirus Task Force, to discuss the latest efforts in response to the global outbreak and provide the public an update on the current situation in New Jersey.
Last week, Sen. Menendez urged the Trump Administration to fully fund pandemic preparedness and response efforts in light of the global Coronavirus outbreak and warned that its annual proposed funding cut could threaten the government’s ability to effectively combat the spread of the deadly virus. The Trump Administration has repeatedly proposed dramatic cuts to programs and offices that spearhead efforts to respond to this and other pandemics, including a 2020 budget proposal that cut critical pandemic response programs by nearly 20 percent.
Sens. Menendez and Booker called on National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to appoint a qualified, dedicated, senior global health security expert to the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) to address and coordinate administration efforts in response to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and other global health security threats.
Sen. Menendez has co-hosted two Senate briefings in recent weeks on the global coronavirus outbreak by high-level Trump Administration officials, in which he continued to press for additional resources for New Jersey.
The letter was signed by Sens. Menendez, Booker, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here.
February 13, 2020
The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Azar:
We write to ask that your department establish clear guidelines for state and local governments to receive federal reimbursement for costs they incur as part of the federal response to the current deadly coronavirus outbreak.
The administration has already identified military bases and health facilities near 11 major airports that can support Americans evacuated from China, including facilities in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, New York, Washington, New Jersey, Michigan, and the District of Columbia. Many state and local health departments and hospitals have helped support the transportation and quarantine efforts, and it is important they be notified of the criteria by which the department will ask them to document and report what resources they contributed to the federal response for reimbursement.
In addition, the administration has provided guidance and expectation that state and local public health agencies conduct monitoring of travelers who are in self-quarantine. As this response continues, existing resources will be exhausted and federal support will be needed to continue efforts.
In response to previous public health emergencies, federal funding was distributed to state and local efforts that directly supported federal activities. For example, in 2009, state and local agencies received federal funding to respond to ongoing and emerging outbreaks of H1N1 influenza in the United States. In 2014, state and local public health activities received federal funding for preparedness planning and operational readiness in response to Ebola. In 2016, states, cities, and territories received federal funding to support efforts to protect Americans from Zika and associated adverse health outcomes, including microcephaly and other serious birth defects. The current health emergency response should be no different.
We appreciate the department’s coordination with state and local agencies so far to prevent a wider coronavirus outbreak in the United States. We urge that the department release guidance expeditiously regarding reimbursement to state and local agencies so that they have certainty that they will receive sufficient reimbursement as the crisis continues.
Thank you for your attention to this issue, and we look forward to your response.