Hillary Clinton

Clinton pitches national fund to deal with outbreaks like Zika

Informational Zika posters for pregnant women were displayed behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when she toured the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami.
Informational Zika posters for pregnant women were displayed behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton when she toured the Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami. AP

In response to Miami’s rash of Zika infections, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will propose the creation of a public-health fund with money available year-round to quickly respond to disease outbreaks.

The Democratic presidential candidate cited congressional inaction on Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that has spread in South Florida during lawmakers’ seven-week summer recess. Legislators left Washington in mid-July after having failed to pass President Barack Obama’s emergency-funding request to fight Zika — and won’t return until after Labor Day.

“Uncertain long-term budgets leave our public health agencies dependent on emergency appropriations — meaning that when Congress fails to step up, communities are left without the resources they need, vaccines languish in development, and more people get sick,” Clinton said in a statement that in addition to Zika referred to the Ebola virus and other diseases and public-health threats.

Clinton’s proposed “Public Health Rapid Response Fund” would be aimed at providing financial relief to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health and Human Services Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local public health departments and hospitals.

Clinton did not specify where money for such a fund would come from, or how much would be in it — other than she’d like for it to have “consistent, year-to-year budgets.”

Her proposal comes two weeks after the former secretary of state traveled to the Borinquen Health Care Center in Midtown, just outside of Wynwood, the Miami neighborhood with the highest number of confirmed cases of locally transmitted Zika virus. Both her visit and new public-health policy plan are intended to draw a contrast with Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has hardly mentioned the Zika outbreak.

Asked about the virus in a Florida interview earlier this month, Trump indicated Florida Gov. Rick Scott — a Republican Trump supporter — might have the power to convene a special session of Congress. He doesn’t.

Florida members of Congress from both political parties have clamored for fellow lawmakers to return to Capitol Hill and approve emergency Zika-fighting funds. Neither side has gotten any traction, however; existing federal dollars aren’t set to start drying up until the end of September.

Clinton’s public-health fund idea has been batted around in Congress before, with some bipartisan interest. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio recently told the Miami Herald editorial board he would support such a fund, especially given the political battles in Washington in response to Zika and Ebola outbreaks.

“It’s particularly important in the 21st century because of the amount of international travel: In essence, if there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world, it is just a matter of time before it enters the U.S. some way, some how,” Rubio said, without committing to how big the fund might be. “I do support the creation of a fund so that, in case of a future pandemic or outbreak, we can move on it without having to have all these votes in Congress.”

In her statement, Clinton noted that physicians and public-health experts “have been warning for months that the Zika virus was likely to reach the continental United States,” but that didn’t ease the congressional gridlock.

“As a result, the Zika virus has gained a foothold in Miami, and 183 people have already been infected in the city — infections that may have been preventable,” she said, using a number that includes travel-related cases from people infected abroad.

The U.S. government, Clinton added, should also be better prepared for threats from biological weapons and from climate change, which she said could expand the reach of water-borne illnesses and infections such as Lyme disease.