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White House warns of ‘severe consequences’ if Congress doesn’t pass supplemental Covid funding

<i>Alex Wong/Getty Images</i><br/>White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients on March 14 renewed the Biden administration's urgent call for Congress to pass pandemic supplemental funding or face
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Alex Wong/Getty Images
White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients on March 14 renewed the Biden administration's urgent call for Congress to pass pandemic supplemental funding or face "severe consequences."

By Betsy Klein, CNN

White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients on Monday renewed the Biden administration’s urgent call for Congress to pass pandemic supplemental funding or face “severe consequences.”

His remarks came amid uncertainty for the legislative path forward for additional money for the federal government’s pandemic response.

The Biden administration requested $22.5 billion in supplemental Covid-19 relief funding in the massive government funding package, known as the omnibus. Negotiators had proposed a scaled-back $15.6 billion for Covid relief, but — following pushback on both sides of the aisle — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Covid provisions would be stripped from the funding bill, which passed Congress late last week.

House Democrats have introduced a standalone Covid relief bill, but it does not currently have the votes to pass both chambers.

“Prior to the omnibus, we spent weeks briefing Congress on the urgent and immediate needs that required funding to sustain our response through June. We sent Congress a targeted request for $22.5 billion to meet those urgent medical needs,” Zients said at the America’s Health Insurance Plans national conference on health policy and government health programs, according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained by CNN.

Zients continued, “We requested Congress to provide these funds as emergency resources without requiring cuts elsewhere to offset them that would jeopardize them moving forward — as lawmakers have done multiple times on a bipartisan basis under the prior administration. I want to be very clear: Additional funds are necessary in the very near future to avoid disruptions to ongoing Covid response efforts.”

Should Congress fail to act, Zients added, “it would result in severe consequences” for efforts toward treatment, testing, vaccines, efforts to help deliver more vaccines globally and fight future variants. Those points are all key to President Joe Biden’s national preparedness plan for the next state of the pandemic outlined earlier this month.

Executing that plan requires additional congressional support and funding, including money for vaccines, treatments, tests and masks, Zients said. The administration also calls on Congress to reinstate tax credits to help small and mid-size businesses provide paid sick and family leave for those sick with Covid-19.

In ongoing efforts to help get more people vaccinated abroad, Zients noted the US has shipped 485 million doses of 1.2 billion promised doses so far. Supply, he said, “hasn’t been a constraint so far this year,” but the White House is calling on Congress to “provide more funding for State and USAID-led efforts to help countries turn vaccines into vaccinations — to get shots in arms around the world.”

The funding will also help “ensure an orderly transition to the commercial marketplace,” though he did not elaborate on timing for when that transition for Covid-related programs might be.

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