White House submits $1.25 billion emergency request for coronavirus effort

By Phil Mattingly and Caroline Kelly, CNN

(CNN) -- The White House has requested $1.25 billion in emergency funding to address the novel coronavirus, part of an effort to direct as much as $2.5 billion in total funds to bolster its response to the growing global crisis, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

"To this point, no agency has been inhibited in response efforts due to resources or authorities," Russell Vought, the acting director at the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in the letter to lawmakers requesting the funds. "However, much is still unknown about the virus and the disease it causes."

In total, Vought wrote, the administration expects "to allocate at least $2.5 billion in total resources" for the response effort. Much of that support would come from shifting funds already appropriated to other government agencies toward the effort.

Lawmakers said they were preparing for the administration's request to reach Capitol Hill, even as the final numbers were still in flux in advance of the letter sent Monday evening.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, told reporters Monday that his staff had been in discussions with the White House about the looming request.

The news comes on the eve of a briefing Tuesday morning on the coronavirus for all senators in a classified setting, two sources with knowledge of the plans tell CNN.

Along with the $1.25 billion emergency funding request, the White House requested that an additional $535 million in emergency funding previously appropriated for the prevention and treatment of Ebola be redirected toward the effort to counter coronavirus.

"Tremendous progress has been made on Ebola and the current national response priority should be" coronavirus, the letter states, noting that "these two proposals would make $1.8 billion in new resources available for the current response."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the funding effort "long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency," promising a House funding package that would better address the issue.

The California Democrat pointed to Trump's proposed budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arguing that "weeks after the Trump Budget called for slashing the CDC budget during this coronavirus epidemic, this undersized funding request shows an ongoing failure to understand urgent public health needs."

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, expressed similar sentiments, calling the funding request "woefully insufficient" and bashing the administration for taking "weeks" to make it.

"It is profoundly disturbing that their answer now is to raid money Congress has designated for other critical public health priorities," she said, adding that House Democrats would move to "enact a robust package that fully addresses this global emergency without allowing this administration to steal from other necessary programs."

The US now has 35 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. More than a dozen Americans who tested positive for the disease returned to the US this week after spending weeks in isolation on the luxury cruise ship Diamond Princess docked in Japan.

Although the White House initially took a measured approach to handling the virus, administration officials earlier this month issued travel bans, quarantine orders and increased mandatory screenings as officials evaluated the growing threat posed by the illness.

Trump had downplayed concern about the contagion on Sunday as he departed the White House for India, claiming his administration has the virus "very much under control in this country."

White House officials had been expected to ask Congress for emergency funding this week amid growing fears of a larger outbreak in the US, according to two officials familiar with the anticipated request. Government aides had worked throughout the weekend on the supplemental request, according to a person familiar with the plans.

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