Top Democrats say Trump is sitting on $14B for coronavirus testing, contact tracing

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray are calling on the administration to immediately free up the funds.
Image: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference at the Capitol on May 19, 2020.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference at the Capitol on May 19, 2020.Stefani Reynolds / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has been sitting on nearly $14 billion in funding that Congress passed for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington.

The top Democrats said in a letter Sunday to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the Trump administration has "still failed" to distribute more than $8 billion out of $25 billion appropriated by Congress to expand testing and contact tracing. The letter indicated that Congress passed these funds as part of a coronavirus relief bill in April.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also hasn’t awarded nearly $4 billion for surveillance and contact tracing at the state and local levels and tribal territories, they said, and little of $2 billion set aside for free testing for uninsured people has been disbursed.

"While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the Administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus," they wrote.

Schumer and Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that the Trump administration will "put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory" and leaves resources untouched.

"We call on you to immediately disburse the remainder of the $25 billion in funds to ramp up testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as to make sure providers are aware of and able to easily access the $2 billion that Congress appropriated to provide testing for the uninsured," they said.

For the $8 billion in unused funds for ramping up testing and contact tracing, the senators said that it’s critical that the administration immediately release the funds and focus the money on contact tracing and collecting data on racial and ethnic disparities in connection to COVID-19.

President Donald Trump told a crowd of his supporters at his first campaign rally in months Saturday that he wanted to slow down testing for the coronavirus.

"Testing is a double-edged sword," said Trump, who added that the U.S. has conducted 25 million tests. "When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases, so I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down, please.'"

Trump officials defended the president Sunday, including top White House trade adviser Peter Navarro who said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump's remark "was tongue-in-cheek."

During an interview with Scripps on Monday, Trump was pressed on whether there was any truth to his Saturday remark.

"If it did slow down, frankly I think we’re way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth," he said. "We’ve done too good a job. Because every time we go up, with 25 million tests you’re gonna find more people. So then they say, 'oh, we have more cases in the United States.' The reason we have more cases because we do more testing than any other country by far."