Biden admin seeks $30 bln more from Congress to fight COVID -sources

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the situation in Russia and Ukraine from the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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WASHINGTON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The Biden administration is seeking $30 billion in additional funds from Congress to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to bolster vaccines, treatments, testing supply, and research, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The $30 billion request includes $17.9 billion for vaccines and therapeutics, two sources familiar with it said.

Administration officials and congressional staff have been in talks about the issue, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

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“HHS leaders regularly engage with Congress about COVID resources, and in a Tuesday conversation with congressional staff, HHS discussed the status of COVID response funds as well as the need for additional resources to support securing more lifesaving treatments and vaccines, sustaining testing capacity, and investing in research and development of next-generation vaccines," the spokesperson said.

"These resources would help us continue expanding the tools the country needs to stay ahead of the virus and help us move toward the time when COVID-19 will not disrupt our daily lives.”

Democratic President Joe Biden secured a $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan" last year to fight the pandemic. But the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus, coupled with ongoing vaccine hesitancy among a portion of the U.S. population, have fueled coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths nationwide.

"While we continue to have sufficient funds to respond to the current Omicron surge in the coming weeks, our goal has always been to ensure that we are well prepared to stay ahead of the virus," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

The White House is eager to show progress on the pandemic ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, in which Republicans hope to take over control of the House of Representatives and the Senate; Democrats have a slim majority in the House and control the 50-50 Senate now, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding a tie-breaking vote.

The administration may face opposition from Republicans and even some Democrats wary of approving additional funding. Biden is also struggling to pass pieces of his Build Back Better climate and social spending bill, which has stalled in the Senate because of opposition from moderate members of his own party.

The new COVID funding package includes a proposed $4.9 billion for testing, including extending community testing, and continuing development and manufacturing of at-home tests aimed at new variants, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

Another estimated $3 billion is proposed for reimbursing providers for testing, treatment and vaccination of the uninsured and vaccination of the underinsured. $3.7 billion would go to developing vaccines that would protect against future variants and half a billion dollars would be aimed at programs for tracking diseases.

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Reporting by Jeff Mason, Marisa Taylor and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Leslie Adler, Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis

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