Congressional Dems renew plea to get Zika funding passed

zika funding (Large)

With 11 new cases of Zika reported in Florida Wednesday — the most yet in a single day — leading congressional Democrats renewed a plea to resurrect a bipartisan $1.1 billion spending bill to fight what they call a silent epidemic that is gaining a foothold in the United States.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson fired off a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday urging him to bring back a $1.1 billion proposal that would help fight the spread of Zika. Nelson said this has to be done before July 15 when Congress begins its seven-week summer break. Summer, he said, is peak mosquito season.

“Just yesterday we had 11 new cases (of Zika) in Florida,” Nelson said in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “It’s been 136 days since the president requested just under $2 billion in emergency funding. It took just a few days for Ebola, 49 days to respond to swine flu in 2009.”

He said the House’s “so-called $1.1 billion deal … wasn’t a serious solution because it had all kinds of extraneous things in there, highly partisan provisions that were poison pills. This is how the Zika crisis is being treated, as part of partisan politics.”

Research is blunted without funding, he said. And measures to control mosquito populations are not being undertaken because there is no money.

“This is inexcusable, irresponsible partisan behavior,” said Nelson.

His letter to McConnell urges the Senate majority leader to bring back the $1.1 billion spending proposal without any riders, including the one tacked onto the bill that would have pulled Medicaid money from Puerto Rico, where Zika is infecting about 50 people a day.

“In the very place that needs Medicaid help,” he said, Republicans “were cutting that money out.”

Time is running short, Nelson said.

“We’re at the 11th hour and 59th minute,” he said. “We have to get something passed.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor also expressed urgency in getting federal money allocated to fight the insidious disease that leaves newborns with catastrophic birth defects including small heads and incomplete brain development; lifelong issues that could cost $10 million in treatment over the course of one child’s life.

Wednesday, she said, the state recorded 11 new cases of Zika infections, the most in a single day since the first one was reported in January. One of the new cases was in Hillsborough County, said the Tampa Democrat.

“We’ve got to have the funds to develop vaccines and diagnostics and make sure pregnant women have all the information necessary to make very difficult decisions in their lives,” Castor said. “We’ve got one week left if they are not able — Speaker (Paul) Ryan and Republican leaders — if we’re not able to get a bill to the president’s desk, that would be a colossal failure.”

Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said Thursday the president is hopeful he can get a bill to sign and he has spoken to McConnell and leading Democrats about hammering out a bipartisan approach before the summer break.

“We know the risk is growing every day and the longer we wait to pass legislation,” she said, “the greater the consequences.”

Wednesday, the Florida Health Department reported 11 new cases, including one in Hillsborough County, and some counties have been under a declaration of public health emergency.

Of the 220 cases in Florida, not including 43 pregnant women, 28 are still exhibiting symptoms, which can last between seven to 10 days.

Miami-Dade County leads the state with 72 cases, followed by Broward County with 37 cases and Orange County with 21.

In February, Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency for the counties where the disease has cropped up. There were 26 counties named in the declaration including Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Pinellas counties, in which 22 cases of Zika have been reported since January.

In June, Scott used his emergency executive authority to allocate $26.2 million in state funds for Zika preparedness, prevention and response.

The rate at which Zika is spreading is “a silent epidemic,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden during the conference call Thursday. “Four out of five don’t have symptoms and those that do have mild symptoms. It has a devastating impact on pregnancy,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of women are dealing with this diagnosis throughout the country.”

He urged Congress to get the spending bill pushed through before next week.

“The mosquito and virus,” he said, “are not waiting.”

Keith Morelli

With a 38-year career in journalism behind him, Keith Morelli now writes about medical marijuana and the politics of pot in Florida. He began his career as a news editor with a weekly paper in Zephyrhills and his last gig was with The Tampa Tribune, which folded unceremoniously in May. While there, Morelli was general assignment reporter for the Metro section, writing a wide variety of pieces ranging from obituaries, to crime, to red tide, panthers and city government. In between those jobs, he spent nine years as a bureau chief for the Ocala Star-Banner.


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