WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today in protest of the Bush Administration’s request to “reprogram” or shift funds from state and local bioterrorism preparedness:
“I join our nation's governors, public health officials, and public health advocates in opposing the Bush Administration's plan to ‘reprogram,’ or shift, $55 million in Fiscal Year 2004 bioterrorism preparedness funding away from the State and Local Bioterrorism Preparedness to other programs.
“I certainly do not oppose funding other bioterrorism needs, but the Administration is robbing Peter to pay Paul, when both need help. This shifting of funds is just another example of the consequences of the Administration’s fiscally irresponsible policies which have put the country deeply in debt and made it difficult to invest adequately in important programs such as bioterrorism preparedness.
“Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has tried to make the case that states do not need the Fiscal Year 2004 funds allocated to state and local preparedness programs because Fiscal Year 2003 money has been left unspent, but as a former governor he should know better. States have until August 2004 to spend those funds and the fact is that the states expect to spend the vast majority of them.
“The September 11th and anthrax terrorist attacks made it apparent that our public health infrastructure was not prepared to deal with these new types of threats, and that the level of preparedness would only improve with a strong federal commitment. State and Local Preparedness program funds are critical to strengthening our public health infrastructure and recent reports by organizations like the Trust for America's Health show that there is still a long way to go. And this week’s announcement that terrorist attacks could occur this summer is another reminder that now is the time to demonstrate a strong federal commitment to improving preparedness, not to renege on our promises.
“The combination of this reprogramming or shifting of funds, and the Bush Administration's proposal to cut the bioterrorism program by $105 million in their Fiscal Year 2005 budget request, will harm our nation's ability to prepare for a bioterrorist attack. As a result, states will be forced to lay off or cut back on hiring epidemiologists and emergency public health specialists, delay implementing emergency response training and equipment purchases, and postpone or cancel other planned preparedness programs, even though the federal government has asked that states take such steps in order to be better prepared.
“I urge Secretary Thompson to reconsider this decision and avoid actions that will impede improving our nation’s preparedness.”