White House to 'stop critical COVID response efforts' as funding stalls in Congress

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(WASHINGTON) — The White House is preparing to “stop critical COVID response efforts” as additional funding for COVID-19 relief sits stalled in Congress, a person familiar with the plan told ABC News.

Biden and his administration have warned for weeks that there was not enough money left to support critical COVID-19 response efforts, including testing at the current pace, purchasing more COVID-19 treatments and acquiring more booster shots.

But pleas for Congress to allot billions more in its latest funding bill fell short last week, leaving government relief efforts in a “dire” place, the White House said.

While it’s not yet clear which response efforts will get cut back, the White House is expected to lay that out in a letter to congressional leadership later Tuesday, according to the person familiar with the White House’s plans.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the cuts on Monday, warning reporters that “some programs, if we don’t get funding, could abruptly end or need to be pared back.”

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She also stressed that the U.S. needs to be ready to respond to a potential increase in cases like the upticks currently happening in the U.K. and China due to the BA.2 variant, which is a more transmissible strain of omicron, and said that any reduction in the United States’ COVID-19 response could hamper the country’s ability to fight back this variant or future ones.

The White House had previously requested around $30 billion in additional COVID-19 funding — a request that was chiseled down to less than half as much in Congress before it was later cut from the larger spending bill entirely last week.

The path forward on a spending bill solely for COVID-19 relief, the only other option, is murky.

In the meantime, the White House has estimated that without more funding, testing capacity will become strained this month, while in April, coverage for testing and treatment of uninsured people will run out, and in May, the U.S. will run out of monoclonal antibodies.

The U.S. supply of COVID-19 treatment pills that significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization, such as those made by Pfizer and Merck, will run out in September if the government doesn’t soon place more orders, the White House said.

On Monday, a White House official said they were still “assessing the impact that a continued lack of funds will have on all elements of our pandemic response, including where programs may need to abruptly end or be pared back and what gaps this will leave in our ability to provide protections.”

In Congress, approval for more funding hinges on agreement from Republicans in the Senate, who oppose more spending.

“Before we would consider supporting an additional $30 billion for COVID-19 relief, Congress must receive a full accounting of how the government has already spent the first $6 trillion,” a group of 25 Republican senators wrote in a letter to the White House in early March.

But Democrats in the House were also splintered last week after leadership agreed to dip into funding that was already allotted to state governments to cover the latest request.

The White House said it’s been briefing members of Congress and answering questions since mid-January on the need for more funding and detailing the consequences if funding runs out.

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