White House seeks $45.8 billion to cover ‘unanticipated’ coronavirus costs for government

U.S. President Donald Trump, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, confers with Vice President Mike Pence while speaking about the coronavirus in the press briefing room at the White House on March 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.

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The Trump administration requested an additional $45.8 billion from Congress — beyond existing funding requests that could total more than $1 trillion — to cover “unanticipated” costs incurred by agencies responding to the crisis.

Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought said in a letter to congressional leaders that the additional money will be used “to address ongoing preparedness and response efforts.”

The request includes:

  • More than $11.5 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services;
  • More than $3.1 billion for the Homeland Security Department, including $2 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency;
  • $8.3 billion for the Defense Department to “minimize the impacts of the virus” on service members and missions;
  • $150 million for the Education Department to address school clean-up efforts, student loan issues and costs for about 5,000 staff to work remotely.

The Trump administration’s efforts to fight the deadly COVID-19 pandemic have “forced agencies to incur unanticipated costs,” Vought said in the letter dated Tuesday and made public Wednesday.

“These costs must be met with a legislative response to ensure full operational capacity,” the OMB acting chief said.

Vought noted that this request “is not intended as a broad-based solution to the major economic dislocation wrought by the virus, nor is it the primary means by which the Federal Government plans to address the hardships of families, individuals, and communities who have been touched by the disease.”

The request comes as U.S. lawmakers seek to pass more emergency funding in Congress. President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion aid package earlier this month that sailed through the House and Senate in a matter of days, but another bill has been held up in the Senate.

On Tuesday, CNBC reported that the White House is seeking a stimulus package worth anywhere from $850 billion to more than $1 trillion as it struggles to rein in the disease and its economic contagion.

Some $250 billion of that proposal could go toward making direct payments to Americans, a White House official told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a press briefing that “Americans need cash now.”

Vought’s letter also bumped up the administration’s fiscal 2021 request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by about $1.3 billion, bringing the total to roughly $8.3 billion.

The letter added $440 million to the budget request for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “to continue critical basic and applied research on coronaviruses and other infectious diseases.” The NIAID is leading the administration’s vaccine development efforts.

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