Governors Oppose HHS Plan To Divert Bioterrorism Funds

Washington, D.C. - Calling it a threat to states' ongoing homeland security efforts, the National Governors Association (NGA) yesterday voiced strong opposition to the decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to divert delivery of states' bioterrorism preparedness funds.

In a May 19 letter, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, the chair of NGA's Health and Human Services Committee, and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the committee vice chair, urged HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to reconsider his plan to reduce or redirect the already-appropriated federal funds for fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004. For HHS to renege on its funding commitment would threaten critical efforts aimed at strengthening bioterrorism preparedness capability and capacity in state public health systems across the country, the governors said.

"States should be judged on how well the public health infrastructure and systems are being developed and whether states are better prepared for bioterrorism response," the governors wrote in their letter. "Governors are committed to ensuring that U.S. citizens are secure from bioterrorism attacks, but this can only be achieved through an equal, stable, and steady commitment from the federal government to continue supporting state bioterrorism preparedness initiatives."

In the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the deadly anthrax attacks later that year, Congress and HHS wisely provided states $1.85 billion in grants for fiscal years 2002 and 2003 to bolster state bioterrorism preparedness efforts. In response, states used the federal money to rebuild a deteriorating public health infrastructure that had suffered from two decades of federal neglect and under-funding. So far, states have fully obligated more than 90 percent of the FY 2002 funds and are currently coordinating the proper obligation for FY 2003, which will be reported, as required, later this year. To date, the federal government has not even awarded the FY 2004 funds to the states.

"Governors are committed to ensuring the U.S. citizens are secure from bioterrorism attacks, but this can only be achieved through an equal, stable, and steady commitment from the federal government to continue supporting state bioterrorism preparedness initiatives," NGA's letter concluded. "We urge you to honor the federal commitment and make sure that all appropriated funds are preserved to assist our states in building capability and capacity in the public health systems so we will be prepared to respond to and recover from bioterrorist attacks."

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