White House says 1st cuts to COVID efforts will hit Americans next week as funding stalls in Congress

The Biden administration has warned for weeks there was not enough money left.

March 15, 2022, 5:38 PM

Americans will feel the impact of cuts to the U.S. COVID response as early as next week, the White House said Tuesday in a letter to congressional leaders, as efforts to get more funding sit stalled.

This letter is the latest push on behalf of the White House to try to persuade Congress that the U.S. desperately needs more COVID-relief money. So far, those pleas have not had much success.

The funding crunch comes as cases of the BA.2 variant, a more transmissible strain of omicron, rise in other countries.

"With cases rising abroad, scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months we could see rising cases of COVID-19 here in the United States as well," White House COVID coordinator Jeff Zients and acting director of the Office of Management and Budgets Shalanda Young wrote in the letter, which was obtained by ABC News.

"Waiting to provide funding until we’re in a surge will be too late," they wrote. The letter was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others.

The most immediate impacts of the COVID relief running dry will be felt by uninsured Americans, who will no longer be able to submit claims for tests or COVID treatments starting next week, senior administration officials told reporters earlier on Tuesday. In two weeks, claims to cover vaccinations will no longer be accepted -- meaning the program that has been covering people without insurance throughout the pandemic will effectively end.

Anyone seeking monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID will also face a tougher battle starting next week, officials said, when the government plans to cut supplies to states by 30%.

And a new purchase for hundreds of thousands more monoclonal antibody treatments, planned for March 25, will be canceled, senior officials said.

Making those cuts now will keep the U.S. monoclonal antibody supply on-hand until late May, officials said, when they predict the U.S. will fully run out of antibody treatments.

"These are immediate, near-term consequences, some of which we're having to act on this week, next week, and the first week of April. So time is not on our side. We need the funding immediately," one senior administration official said.

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.

The administration officially requested $22.5 billion earlier this month, but the request was chiseled down to around $15 billion before it was cut entirely from the latest funding bill last week, leaving government relief efforts strained.

PHOTO: WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on March 14, 2022 in Washington, DC.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on March 14, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Officials on Tuesday also warned about a faltering defense against any new variants, if more funding isn't granted by Congress.

Lack of funding will hamper USAID efforts to vaccinate people abroad, officials said, meaning that "large unvaccinated populations worldwide will increase the risk of new deadly emerging variants emerging that could evade our current vaccines and treatments."

And in the instance of a new variant, the U.S. would not have the money to buy new variant-specific vaccines for all Americans to get vaccinated, if that becomes necessary, officials warned.

Research on new vaccines and treatments will also be affected by cuts, officials said, including progress on a pan-coronavirus vaccine, which could protect against a range of variants.

On testing capacity, the administration said that current domestic supply will get Americans through June, despite earlier warnings that Americans would see less testing availability starting this month.

"Without additional funding, we do not have the ability to maintain our domestic testing capacity beyond June," a senior administration official said.

"And because it takes months of ramp up to rebuild capacity, failure to invest now will leave us less prepared for any potential future surges. So, providing funding only when cases rise is far too late to make a difference," the official said, noting that the U.S. felt the impact of that mistake firsthand during the omicron surge.

But for now, the path forward for COVID-19 relief is murky.

PHOTO: Visitors walk past the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2022.
Visitors walk past the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2022.
Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Approval for more funding hinges on agreement from Republicans in the Senate, who oppose more spending and say they weren't given clear warning on the need for more money until too recently.

"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.

On Tuesday, a senior administration official steered clear of any specific advice for Congress to get the funding approved, but said there is "precedent" for bipartisan support for COVID relief under the previous administration.