Congress Got Its Ass in Gear to Fight Zika, Help Louisiana, and Fix Flint Pipes
Eventually they had to get something done.
In a rare moment of efficiency, Congress just approved much-needed funding for three of the biggest public health crises in the country this year: Zika, Flint, Michigan's tainted water, and the Louisiana floods. Apparently when it rains for public health funding, it pours.
After months of squabbling, Congress made a decision Wednesday that was so obvious even Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed on it: releasing funds to fight Zika. As part of a short-term spending bill that needed to pass to keep the government funded through December 9 (they're really just doing the bare minimum at this point, huh?), $1.1 billion was earmarked to fight the spread of the mosquito-spread Zika virus, which has been spreading through south Florida and Puerto Rico for months.
President Obama requested $1.9 billion for Zika prevention way back in February but when Congress dragged its feet, the White House independently shuffled some funds around to free up some cash for the disease—partly from leftover funding to fight Ebola that we didn't use. Florida Governor Rick Scott also set aside state funding to help curb the spread of Zika.
Lawmakers were in disagreement over how much money to set aside for the infectious virus, which can cause birth defects in pregnant women, but there were also other barriers to getting this bill passed.
This summer, a bill that would have released $1.1 billion for Zika barred some Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving funds, despite the fact that the disease can be sexually transmitted and is most dangerous for pregnant women. Democratic Congress members couldn't get behind that, so it never passed—and caused a lot of fighting. This time around, the Planned Parenthood restrictions were lifted, allowing the funds to be used in whatever way is most effective for fighting this disease.
But Zika isn't the only public health scare that needed attention. Though it's overdue, the Washington Post reported that Congress also authorized $170 million to help Flint, Michigan replace corroded water-supply pipes after it was revealed the city's water was tainted with lead. Though it won't cover the total cost of replacing the pipes, it's a boost to Michigan's state funding and will also help provide health services to victims of lead poisoning from drinking the tainted water.
It also provides $500 million in disaster relief funding, the bulk of which is expected to be used to help victims of the massive flooding in Louisiana this summer, which killed 13 people and left thousands homeless. The money could be used to help rebuild homes or infrastructure, and the state could receive additional funds when Congress returns after the election. Though it won't provide immediate relief, it's the first step toward helping the victims get their lives back together.
Many of these funds have been needed for months to help prevent and recover from major health crises, so the fact that Congress could finally get along long enough to pass the bill is great news. Now that that's settled, Congress can get back to the important stuff, like campaigning for re-election.
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