February 26, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today announced that he is joining a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act, which would create a permanent reserve fund to enable quick and effective responses to future public health emergencies. The legislation comes as the coronavirus epidemic continues to threaten to develop into a pandemic, and after the administration has abolished or ignored programs designed to address these types of international threats. The legislation is also supported by Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).
“We can’t predict every health emergency that will pop up across the globe – but we know from history that outbreaks will happen, and we must be ready to proactively address them,” said Senator King. “Rather than waiting for the next threat to arise, we should be building and supporting our public health infrastructure so we’re well-equipped to face the challenges before us. Let’s take this bipartisan step to protect the health of American people and make sure we’re prepared for the future.”
The Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act would create a permanent capability for federal response agencies – including the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other federal departments – to respond proactively to better track and get ahead of infectious diseases and other public health emergencies before they spread or get out of control.
Specifically, the legislation would provide automatic funding for the existing Public Health Emergency Fund, which would be available for a public health emergency regarding an infectious disease, bioterrorist attack, or disaster that is declared by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill includes safeguards that the funding will be spent according to best practices learned from previous responses to public health emergencies, appropriated based on historic needs, and properly monitored through robust accountability and oversight mechanisms for expended funds.
Senator King has strongly pushed for proactive efforts to protect global public health, and earlier this month introduced the Global Health Security Act to officially establish a permanent, Presidentially-appointed position to manage outbreak response efforts, advance the goals of the 2014 Global Health Security Agenda, and authorize annual funding towards that goal. Senators King and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter in February requesting details on USAID’s recent decision to shutter PREDICT, a program established to identify and combat viruses that may generate global public health emergencies, such as the recent coronavirus. The letter follows up on a November request from Senator King, who asked for information on USAID’s decision to end PREDICT. In January, he joined 30 of his Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep American families safe.