Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, January 27, 2022
During the House Rules committee’s hearing on budget principles for pandemic preparedness, members highlighted the weariness everyone was enduring entering the third year of the pandemic. This hearing comes at an opportune time in light of a potential new request from the White House for supplemental COVID-19 funding.

The hearing called for a review of how government funds have been spent and whether they were spent most effectively. By learning from the COVID response, future lives can be saved and economic damage lessened when another pandemic occurs.

A series of witnesses covered multiple topics, from public health to food insecurity. Witnesses testified to the need to strengthen the infrastructure for public health for future threats, which would likely be biological and cyber-related. Other ideas included using nonprofits’ current distribution systems to strengthen the food system to reach the most vulnerable by requiring the federal government to invest in the nonprofit sector to shape those systems. Another witness told the committee that during disasters, there are people who fall through the cracks and cannot access federal assistance due to insufficient high level administrative capacity to assist them with understanding the paperwork, thereby causing them to walk away from the process.  

Going forward, more data and analyses are needed to understand where investments should be directed. The federal government was also chastised that a “quick win” mentality can actually build in complexity to assistance—a critical barrier for victims. Instead, there is a need to greatly simplify the ability to access disaster assistance benefits. It was suggested the federal government work closely with local level responders who know their communities and better resource operational aspects such as training people, who design and develop these assistance systems, not just fund emergency supplies. Additional advice was that funding should not be constrained by the usual top-line debate on 302(a) funding levels for defense and nondefense programs. Rather a suggestion was made to create a separate classification for such supplemental funds. 

Finally, there was the call for every administration to take a deep dive into a pandemic exercise—for members to visit a national strategic stockpile site; provide incentives for agencies to work together; and involve other committees such as the House Energy and Commerce and House Science, Space and Technology committees more robustly in preparedness responses.