Yesterday the Ranking Members of the Labor, Heath and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee called for a hearing to examine how budget cuts may have led to not only the Ebola epidemic, but also the proliferation of Enterovirus D68, a rapidly spreading pediatric respiratory disease that has sickened 500 children in 42 states across the US.
Members of the subcommittee, which oversees the funding for two primary federal public health agencies—the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health—penned a letter to the subcommittee chairman, Congressman Jack Kingston, detailing the effects budget cuts have had on response efforts:
“As you know, our subcommittee has been forced to make difficult choices due to our constrained budget environment over the past four years. That has resulted in the purchasing power of the NIH being reduced by 10 percent over the last four years. Our public health infrastructure at the CDC and HHS has also been forced to make do with less. CDC’s program that supports our state and local public health professionals who are working on the front lines to contain this current Ebola epidemic has been cut by 16 percent over the last four years after adjusting for inflation. The program at HHS that helps hospitals be ready to contain deadly epidemics like Ebola and prepare for patient surges from outbreaks like Entereovirus D68 has been reduced by 44 percent over the same period.”
Congress is currently in recess, not scheduled to reconvene until after the November elections. But, with one confirmed death from Ebola in the US and new reports about potential diagnoses coming in, they are calling for answers now.
“While we may disagree on the merits and the necessity of these cuts we have a responsibility to ensure that CDC, NIH and the other public health agencies under our jurisdiction have sufficient resources to protect the public health and are taking the appropriate actions today to address it. When Congress returns from the November elections we will have to determine the funding necessary for these agencies to respond to these public health cruses before the Continuing Resolution expires. Therefore, we urge you to convene a Subcommittee hearing this month to gather the information we need to make informed decisions for the remainder of the fiscal year.