With the United States’ top health officials warning of a potentially severe coronavirus outbreak striking the country, Donald Trump has already instituted massive cutbacks in the American defense system against health crises and epidemics.
But as a possible coronavirus epidemic approaches, the president is scrambling to boost spending in response to the potential crisis. This includes a plan to take away money earmarked to help low-income Americans pay for home heating oil, and spend it instead on the anti-coronavirus effort, according to a report Tuesday by The Washington Post.
According to Foreign Policy Magazine, Trump’s cutbacks have included shutting down the National Security Council’s “entire global health security unit,” slashing national spending on health by $15 billion, and ditching the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund.
“After dithering for weeks as the coronavirus spread around the world, the Trump administration has now decided to pay for its belated response by cutting funding for heating assistance for low-income families,” Evan Hollander, spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, told The Washington Post.
In addition to the new package, Trump last month announced the formation of a “President’s Coronavirus Task Force,” an all-male group comprised of 12 administration officials, including five from his own staff. But according to Foreign Policy, it’s still unclear “how this task force will function or when it will even convene.”
Trump has proposed a $2.5 billion spending package for the emergency response to the coronavirus, but only half of the total would be appropriated as emergency funding. The other $1.25 billion, under the proposal, would come from other areas of the government — including the low-income heating assistance program. The president’s plan would also take $535 million from funds now set aside for response to Ebola — the highly contagious disease that killed more than 11,000 in a West African epidemic between 2014 and 2016.
That Ebola epidemic also saw 11 diagnosed cases of the disease in the United States. One victim, who had contracted the virus within Africa and then took an airline flight to the U.S., died from the ailment, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Democrats have countered Trump’s proposal with a $2.5 billion anti-coronavirus package of their own. But under this plan, 100 percent of the money would be appropriated as emergency funds without swiping from other existing programs, according to the Washington Post report.
But Democrats would need to get Trump and at least some Senate Republicans behind the spending proposal.
“House Democrats won’t allow the president to shut off families’ heat in the middle of winter,” Hollander told the outlet.
The $37 million in funding taken from the low-income home heating program would affect approximately 750,000 families, according to National Energy Assistance Directors Association executive director Mark Wolfe, as quoted by The Washington Post.