WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's administration has yet to distribute nearly $14 billion that Congress has provided for expanding coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray.
In a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the top democrats claim the Trump administration has not released a plan to distribute more than $8 billion out of the $25 billion provided by Congress in April to expand testing and contact tracing.
The Democrats wrote that the Trump administration "failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has yet to award nearly $4 billion in funding that could be used for public health surveillance, and state, local, tribal and territorial surveillance and contact tracing efforts, according to Schumer and Murray's letter. The senators said that also very little of the $2 billion set aside for free testing for uninsured people has been distributed.
Sens. Schumer and Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, stress in their letter that, as COVID-19 cases spike in numerous states across the country, this funding could be used to address critical public health needs. They also stressed that the funding should be used to improve contact tracing, address racial disparities, and ensure that uninsured Americans have access to free testing.
"The United States is at a critical juncture in its fight against COVID-19, and now is the time for an aggressive and fast response. This Administration will put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory, leave lifesaving work undone, and leave resources our communities desperately need sitting untouched," the letter said.
In response, a HHS spokesperson told the Washington Post that it had distributed $14 billion of the $25 billion sum.
On Saturday, President Trump told rally-goers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he asked members of his administration to slow the rate of coronavirus testing in the United States. Top members of his administration claimed the president was joking.
Trump said the U.S. has tested 25 million people, and far more than any other country. He then remarked that more testing leads to finding more cases of people who test positive.
"When you do testing to that extent you're going to find more people, you're going to find cases," Trump said."So I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.' They test and they test. We got tests for people who don't know what's going on."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.