Politics

‘No Help Coming’ As Congress Recesses Without Zika Bill

Congressional lawmakers adjourned for a weeks-long summer break Thursday without passing a bill to fund the nation's fight against the Zika virus.
Congressional lawmakers adjourned for a weeks-long summer break Thursday without passing a bill to fund the nation's fight against the Zika virus.
Credit Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press

An audio version of this story

Georgia health departments and mosquito control groups are grappling with dashed hopes for federal dollars to fight the Zika virus, after Congress failed to pass a funding bill ahead of a weeks-long summer break.

On Thursday, Congress adjourned for seven weeks, with plans to return after Labor Day in early September.

Lawmakers did so without passing a bill that would have allocated $1.1 billion to fight the spread of Zika, meaning funding won’t come before summer’s end. The bill was still short of the $1.9 billion President Obama and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had requested back in February.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said Friday the money is needed so that the organization could better assist states like Georgia in fighting Zika’s spread. The CDC would have received the bulk of that funding.

“Unfortunately we’ve had to take other emergency preparedness dollars for the battle against Zika,” Frieden said. “We’ve been able to reallocate some to states like Georgia that do have the mosquito that spreads or could spread Zika, but this obviously makes all of our work much more difficult.”

The CDC says Georgia has so far seen 33 Zika cases, all travel-related. However the state does have the two mosquito species that could potentially spread the disease here.

“I think it leaves us with the mindset that there’s ho help coming,” says Elmer Gray, an entomologist for the University of Georgia Extension Office. “There’s no cavalry coming if we start having cases transmitted locally.”

Zika, which can be spread by mosquitos or sexually, has been linked to sever birth defects and other neurological conditions.

Gray said the funding could have helped hire more people to do mosquito surveillance and control.

The funding bill fell apart amid political infighting between the two parties. Democrats filibustered the bill over language added by the GOP that would have blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving anti-Zika funding.