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New stimulus package contains $1.5B for NY virus testing

A Capitol Hill worker wearing a protective mask

A Capitol Hill worker wearing a protective mask sets up stanchions in the Rotunda Statuary Hall to create socially distanced spaces for members of the House of Representatives to vote this week in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 21. Credit: Bloomberg/Sarah Silbiger

WASHINGTON — Riding on the expected House approval Thursday of the $484 billion interim coronavirus package will be at least $1.5 billion for New York’s virus testing and contact tracing efforts in addition to more money for small businesses and hospitals.

As states weigh reopening the economy, lawmakers put $25 billion into the massive measure for ramping up COVID-19 testing, with $11 billion set aside for states, a boost to New York as it seeks to double its testing and launch an ambitious contact tracing program.

Lawmakers will leave their home districts to travel to Washington to debate and vote on the House floor spending another $321 billion for the small business paycheck protection program, $75 billion more for health care providers and $25 billion overall for testing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Wednesday the House will pass the bill, despite some lawmakers’ concern about the soaring federal debt after the enactment of three bills since March 6 for spending more than $2.3 trillion to address the pandemic and shutdown.

“We will be able to, in a very strong bipartisan way, to pass the legislation as it passed in a bipartisan way in the Senate. But we will take a recorded vote,” Pelosi said on a Bloomberg News show Wednesday. 

“In the Senate, they had unanimous consent, so they only needed a couple, a few senators to be there,” she said. “We are 430 members now and we will need to have a quorum and a majority to get it passed. But we will.”

Though talks on the interim bill between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at first focused on the small-business loans, it ended with a tough negotiation over Democrats’ demands for $30 billion for a national testing program.

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Schumer and Democrats called a national testing strategy crucial to curbing coronavirus and planning for the reopening of commerce and society. Republicans and President Donald Trump, wary of the political fallout of testing problems, argued that states should plan and carry out testing.

As the Senate passed the bill, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met with Trump at the White House and they struck a pact: the federal government will work on the supply of tests and reagents from national manufacturers and states will expand field testing and lab capacity.

The interim measure requires that the Department of Health and Human Services distribute $11 billion of the overall $25 billion for testing to states, territories and tribes.

A total of $4.25 billion will be allocated through a formula based on the number of each state’s COVID-19 cases. Schumer’s office estimated New York should get $1.5 billion of that funding.

Another $2 billion will be divvied up based on the formula used for a 2019 Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, and New York could get as much as $100 million, Schumer’s office estimates.

HHS officials have discretion to allocate other state-dedicated funds, and New York likely will be awarded some of those funds as well.

The federal government will use the other $14 billion to develop, purchase, administer, process, analyze tests for COVID-19, and conduct research on the virus.

That funding allocates $1 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $1.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $1 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, $1 billion for testing the uninsured, $22 million for the Food and Drug Administration and $825 million for community and rural health centers.

The bill also requires HHS to create and report to Congress over the next three months on a strategic testing plan that advises and sets standards for states on COVID-19 testing.

“We’re forcing the administration to report to Congress on what is the national testing program involving manufacturing and supply chains, involving free testing, and involving contact tracing,” Schumer said. “You cannot tell people to go out on the streets unless there is adequate testing or the fear is that corona [sic] will come back doubly as hard as it came the first time.”

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