Marco Rubio urges administration to use unspent funds shifted to Zika battle

zika funding (Large)

Sen. Marco Rubio is calling on President Barack Obama to take action to fight the spread of Zika.

In a letter Wednesday, the Miami Republican asked the president to encourage agencies to use available funding “in the battle to contain this illness as expeditiously as possible.” The letter to Obama came as health officials investigated two more cases of Zika in Florida that do not appear to be travel related.

“After multiple discussions with representatives from state health departments, local health departments, county government officials, infectious disease experts, and health officers from Puerto Rico, I understand the need to address this public health threat immediately and head on,” said Rubio. “Time is critical for our ability to stay in front of the virus and minimize its impact and there should not be a delay or hold on any funds, either administrative or congressional, while so many are at risk.”

The virus is mainly spread by mosquitoes. So far, the 1,400 infections in the United States have been linked to travel in countries with Zika outbreaks in Latin America and the Caribbean. Some experts worry the number of cases could rise as travelers head home from the Summer Olympics in Brazil, which has been hit hard by the disease.

The U.S. Senate adjourned for summer recess earlier this month without passing a $1.1 billion proposal to combat the spread of the disease. The House-approved bill included provisions to block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus. Democrats opposed the measure, saying Republicans were playing politics with Zika funding.

The illness can also be sexually transmitted, and has been shown to cause birth defects in the babies of infected pregnant women.

Rubio said he has supported all of the funding efforts, including the president’s $1.9 billion funding request.

“Since January, I have been an active and vocal leader on the necessity for the federal government to confront the Zika virus and prepare our country for the inevitable migration of the virus into the United States,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate that Congress has failed to pass any kind of legislation this summer to deal with the Zika virus.  However, it is also deeply concerning that, according to figures provided by the Office of Management and Budget, most of the money reprogrammed by the administration for the fight against Zika remains unspent.”

Rubio said recent reports show as much as $384 million of the money remains unobligated.

“I urge you to encourage all relevant agencies to use the funds currently available in the battle to contain this illness as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “This issue is only magnified as we enter deeper into the summer mosquito season and have had possibly the first locally transmitted case of the Zika virus in Miami, Florida.”

Florida health officials are investigating whether mosquitoes in the United States have begun to spread the virus. There have been four cases of Zika in Florida that don’t appear to be related to travel, and officials are continuing to look into the cases.

The cases are in neighboring Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

There are 381 cases of travel-related Zika in Florida; 53 of those involve pregnant women.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster


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