Some Fla. Stakeholders Weigh In As Congress Is Set To Begin Considering Zika Funding Deals

May 13, 2016

Credit James Gathany / CDC/MGN Online

There’s been a lot of talk about Zika this week and how Congress could help combat the mosquito-borne disease through funding. Florida Governor Rick Scott and other stakeholders even traveled to Washington D.C., hoping a deal could be struck to fund the effort. So far, there are a number of proposals already on the table, including a bipartisan effort by Florida’s two Senators.

In late April, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson filed legislation fully funding President Obama’s request to fight the Zika virus. The $1.9 billion request is one Obama made months ago. So far, close to $600 million of unused Ebola funds have been redirected to help with the Zika fight.

Weeks later, though, Nelson’s legislation never got called up for a vote, despite efforts to do so.

“And so it seems to me that it is our duty, as the senators, to protect our fellow Americans and curb the spread of this virus now,” he said, earlier in the week. “And so I have introduced what the administration requested. The bill has 35 cosponsors, but unfortunately there is not one Republican senator that is a cosponsor, and it doesn't make sense because the spread of the Zika virus is not a partisan issue.”

Since then, Nelson has worked on an amendment with former presidential candidate and fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican. Attached to a military spending bill, it could be taken up next week. And, it still fully funds the President’s request.

“I urge my colleagues–in the Senate and in the House as well–to look at the proposal Senator Nelson and I will introduce, to offer their input, and ultimately to sign on and get this passed,” said Rubio, on the floor Thursday. “Because as we know, it’s not going to be enough to see progress here in the Senate. We need the House to act as well. Zika is taking lives, it’s hurting unborn children, and this problem is only going to get worse as we move forward.”

The House is expected to unveil its own Zika funding package some time next week.

Meanwhile, in addition to Nelson and Rubio’s bipartisan proposal, there’s at least two other Senate proposals with a 1.1 billion dollar figure. Both Rubio and Nelson say that’s not enough.

But, Governor Rick Scott may have a different view.

“Heard a lot about different proposals today,” said Scott. “I don’t know which proposal is the right proposal, but what’s important to me is we do it now.”

Still, Scott says the $1.9 billion would still be welcome, as long as it’s spent on Zika.

Scott spoke recently in Washington D.C., after he met with Republican Congressmen about Zika funding. That includes Rubio. He also met with some federal agency people, including U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. Speaking to reporters, he says it’s crucial everyone knows how important this is to Florida.

“Rain’s going to be coming,” Scott added. “Heat’s going to be coming. We’re going to have the Olympics. This is an urgent need. We need to be doing this now. We need to come to the conclusion now. We need to prepare before we have the crisis. If you stop and think about it, if we wait until after the crisis, the health care costs are going to be way bigger than the preparation costs.”

So, Scott says while in D.C., he requested five-thousand Zika preparedness kits as well as additional resources for the state’s mosquito control districts.

That includes the Lee County Mosquito Control District led by Executive Director Wayne Gale. He’s also the Vice President of the Florida Mosquito Control Association as well as the President-Elect of the American Mosquito Control Association.

He not only recently met with the Governor to discuss Zika preparations, he also traveled with Scott to Washington D-C to provide some recommendations to Congressional leaders on how some of the Zika funds should be spent—should that money become available.

Gale says that includes more funding for Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity, or ELC, grants.

“It’s funding that comes through CDC every year to state health departments to ensure that they have the capacity to test for things like Zika and other diseases, and so we were recommending that assistance that’s already being funded be increased,” he said. “I think it’s at $26 million now, and we asked that it be increased to $50 million.”

Gale is also asking Congress to provide more funds for building mosquito control infrastructures as well as funds to support existing ones “by providing equipment personnel, pesticides, whatever needs to be made available to combat mosquitoes.”

“And, thirdly, there’s a void and a need for more research in mosquito control and the development of new products for mosquito control,” he added.

Gale says the public can also help by eliminating breeding sources around your home and getting rid of the places mosquitoes will reproduce to prevent the spread of Zika.

As of Friday, there were 112 cases in Florida—which still leads the nation in the number of travel-related cases.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.