Battle over money for Zika hurting public health emergency funds at the local level

Because of a federal fight over funds to combat and contain the Zika virus, cities and states are reportedly losing millions in federal funds that local health officials had bookmarked to contain potential flare-ups of the Zika virus and respond to other public health threats, according to the Washington Post.

The funding cuts are representative of a complicated shift of resources implemented while action on the Obama administration's request to legislators for $1.9 billion to fight Zika has stalled at the congressional level. While the administration has implemented a measure to divert $510 million in Ebola funds to aid in the fight against Zika, it also redirected $44 million in emergency preparedness grants for state and local health departments. Certain agencies lost as much as 9 percent of these fiscal awards.

"It's the first time I recall something like this, where the [emergency preparedness] funds were repurposed for another crisis or emergency," James Blumenstock, chief health security officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told the Post.

Due to the cuts, Los Angeles County will reportedly lose $1.6 million in funding and its public health laboratory will be unable to fill 17 current vacancies or upgrade equipment to increase its Zika testing capabilities. Michigan is concerned about how these cuts could hinder the state's ability to address Flint's ongoing water crisis.

Federal emergency resources for local communities have been dwindling in recent years. According to the National Association of County and City Health Officials, which represents 2,800 local health departments, federal allocations in 2005 totaled $863 million. That total has dropped to $568 million this fiscal year. These new cuts have placed an added strain on local health departments that now have to redo their budgets, according to the Washington Post.

Cynthia Harding, interim director of the Los Angeles Country Department of Public Health, told the Post, "This is stealing from Peter to pay Paul...what we need to prevent Zika from becoming endemic are more funds at the local level."

More articles on the Zika virus: 
Pregnant woman in Houston diagnosed with Zika  
Hillary Clinton to send top aides to Puerto Rico for Zika meetings  
How a new mouse model could enhance Zika virus research 

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