States Expect Federal Reimbursement for Coronavirus Costs

22 Americans have now died from the coronavirus, and U.S. health officials have confirmed more than 500 cases across more than a dozen states. Two of these States, Florida and Washington, have declared emergencies, and all are pumping funds into prevention and response programs. They’re assuming that the federal government will reimburse them for their investments in public health measures.

The Trump administration has requested a $2.5 billion supplemental package, of which just about half is new funding for the coronavirus. The rest is to be shifted from funds already designated for projects like Ebola virus protection. None of the funding is earmarked for reimbursement to States.

The Pentagon is also expecting reimbursement for the quarantine housing at California military bases. Congress is working on its own supplemental bill, expected to be in the neighborhood of $6 to $8 billion.

Reimbursement funds

Puerto Rico has been unable to spend a lot of the disaster funding Congress has provided for the Island, because much of it has been set up in away that requires local funds to be spent and then reimbursed. Many communities with rebuilding needs simply don’t have the funds to get started.

In other cases, funds have been spent but reimbursement has not taken place. Projects have had to be stopped with little work done as municipalities wait for funds to be released. It remains to be seen whether States will face the same problems as the confront the coronavirus.

California’s Governor Newsom said in a press conference, “I’m not worried about money.” Governors of other states are less sanguine. Governor Inslee of Washington State, where most of the casualties have taken place, has already expressed concern that funds will have to be diverted from other public health projects.

Florida has also declared a statewide emergency. There are two confirmed cases in the State, and one is of unknown origin. Some California cities and counties have declared emergencies, but the State of California has not done so. In many cases, declaring a state of emergency is a requirement for receiving disaster funds.

It is possible that the virus is spreading within Solano County, California. If so, this is the first indication that the coronavirus is spreading within communities in the United States, rather than just being brought into the country by travelers. California is working on testing more patients and putting quarantine protocols in place, in hopes of stopping the spread.

Seventeen senators have written a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services requesting clear guidelines on how the federal government might reimburse states for “costs they incur as part of the federal response to the current deadly coronavirus outbreak.” The letter harks back to Swine flu (H1N1), Ebola, and Zika outbreak funding in the past and calls for similar federal funding for the coronavirus.

The White House has expressed hopes that the funding bill will be approved quickly, but Congress seems unanimous in wanting more funding, and in particular more new funding. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has announced that her appropriations subcommittee will prepare an alternative bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has introduced a bill that would transfer all border wall funding to the coronavirus.

Puerto Rico and Coronavirus

Following the confirmation of a case of coronavirus in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez has called for restrictions on travel to the territory from the Dominican Republic.

There have been no suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Puerto Rico. The image shown below, which appears to be intended to sensationalize the topic, is in use at YouTube, but there is currently no concern about coronavirus on the Island.

 

It remains to be seen how the federal government and states will address the spreading virus.  Puerto Ricans have grown skeptical of the adequacy of federal assistance in times of need, at least in the U.S. territory.  State leaders are confident – or at least hopeful – their their resources will be sufficient.

Read more about how Puerto Rico lags in federal funding.

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