The Trump administration announced it will be removing federal funding from 13 coronavirus testing sites spread across five states on June 30, and the move is now drawing pushback from both political parties.
“The federal government is not ending funding or support for COVID-19 testing sites,” Assistant Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services Adm. Brett Giroir told Fox News Thursday.
“We are transitioning 13 sites from the original now antiquated program to the more efficient and effective testing sites,” Giroir said, adding that hundreds of other testing sites are federally funded and this move has been planned since May.
The testing sites, spread across Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado and Pennsylvania, will receive financial support through the $10 billion in aid Congress approved for testing and contact tracing.
“I personally spoke with Governors from all five states involved, and/or their leadership designees, who agreed that it was the appropriate time to transition out of the original 13 sites and into the thousands of new testing options,” Giroir told Fox News.
But as coronavirus cases continue to increase in several states — including Texas, which reported an all-time daily high of more than 5,000 new cases on Tuesday, and has seven of the 13 testing sites set to lose federal assistance – the announcement has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn submitted a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Thursday, urging them to grant an extension on the funding.
“While I support the CBTS [Community-Based Testing Sites] program’s transition to a public-private model that will expand testing at retail and pharmacy locations at full federal expense, maintaining the CBTS drive-through sites is critical to Texas’ testing capacity,” Cruz said in the letter.
“Some of the state’s largest cities — where these CBTS sites are located — are experiencing single-day records of new cases.”
“Now is not the time to end federal support of a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity — especially for underserved communities in the state,” he added.
Four Democrat members of Congress from Texas also submitted a letter to the HHS and the FEMA earlier this week, urging them to continue providing federal assistance through the end of August.
"Texas continues to set records for the number of new cases and hospitalizations and Harris County leads the state in the number of confirmed cases,” the letter said. “At this time, we must expand the number of people tested per day to prevent further spread of the virus.”
“Furthermore, withdrawing support will place a heavy burden on the City of Houston Health Department, Harris County Public Health and their partners," added the members of Congress, including Democrat Sylvia Garcia, whose 29th District resides in East Houston, Texas.
Four of the testing sites are located in Harris County, and the letter notes that losing federal funding in these sites “could hinder their continued development of a contact tracing system.”
“FEMA’s removal in this moment could be harmful and irresponsible,” the letter said.
Giroir told Fox News that the original 41 community testing sites have expanded to more than 600 testing sites in 48 states under a “federal bundled payment program to pharmacies,” which enabled more than 1,400 additional pharmacy sites to provide testing.
“HHS will continue to increase testing capacity overall, and make it more accessible especially to underserved communities,” Giroir said Thursday.