WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Monday sent lawmakers an official $1.9 billion request to combat the spread of the Zika virus in Latin America and the U.S.
He is also requesting flexibility to use a limited portion of leftover funds provided in 2014 to fight Ebola to take on Zika, which has been linked to severe birth defects. Top House Republicans told the White House last week that the quickest way to get the money to fight Zika would be to use some of the approximate $2.7 billion that had been designated for the Ebola crisis but remains “unobligated.” Consideration of a stand-alone Zika request could prove cumbersome, especially in a combative election year.
Zika has been spreading through countries such as Brazil, but is also being transmitted by mosquitoes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Travelers have also returned to the continental U.S. infected with the virus.
So far, concerns over Zika have been far more restrained than experienced during the Ebola scare. Voters’ fears regarding Ebola were seen as hurting Obama’s party in the 2014 midterm landslide.
Obama said Monday during a meeting with the nation’s governors that he hoped to work with them in guarding against the outbreak of the disease. Obama said the $1.9 billion he is requesting would include investments in research into new vaccines and better diagnostic tools, and more support for Puerto Rico and territories where there are confirmed cases.
Obama stressed that the symptoms from contracting the Zika virus are mild and most folks don’t even realize they have it.
“But as all of you have read, the possible connection between Zika, birth defects and other serious health problems means that we’ve got to take precautions, particularly with respect to women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant,” Obama told members of the National Governors Association. “So we’re going to be fighting this disease at every level with every tool at our disposal.”
Money would go to fight Zika in U.S. territories and states such as Florida and Texas that are at risk of mosquito-borne transmission of the virus; to help to battle its spread overseas; and to develop a vaccine.
Obama telegraphed the requested earlier this month.