A Wisconsin congressman says billions more in federal dollars will help prepare for a flu pandemic. Congressman Dave Obey says the House Appropriations Committee which he chairs will include over two billion dollars in the supplemental spending bill to be voted on next week. Obey said that's about all the money public health agencies can absorb right not now. "But, there's no question that in the future, if were for instance to try to develop antivirals and build enough doses to protect everybody in the population, it would cost considerably more," Obey said.
Obey says the supplemental spending recommendation will include 350 million dollars to help rebuild state and local public health agencies around the nation, which have laid off some eleven thousand staff members due to the economic recession. He says that impacts the nation's pandemic readiness. "We're certainly more ready than we were five years ago, but no, we'e not fully ready," said the Wausau Democrat. "Any time we lose eleven thousand people in the public health care system because of the economic crunch, that creates a severe hole in our capacity to respond, and to protect the public health."
Obey says the House version of the Economic Stimulus bill had included 900 hundred million dollars in pandemic preparation funding – money that was cut by the Senate. "I hate to say I told you so, but were right to put that money in the stimulus package in January, and we're right to pursue an even larger effort now," Obey said during a Friday conference call with reporters.
Obey also says the Bush administration had requested in 2005 that Congress provide mult-year funding for flu pandemic preparation – but that Republicans who then controlled the House approved much less than the administration had requested.