Two senior Republican senators are pressing President Joe Biden’s administration on the availability of COVID-19 testing after Congress appropriated tens of billions of dollars to improve access.
In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Department Secretary Xavier Becerra Monday, Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) ask how the department allocated $83 billion Congress authorized for pandemic response, following a holiday season when people scrambled for hard-to-find tests. Blunt is ranking member of the appropriations subcommittee with authority over HHS and Burr is ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
“Today, our country faces a testing shortage, with long lines to obtain a PCR test and empty shelves for Americans seeking to purchase rapid tests,” the senators wrote.
“It is unclear to us why we are facing such dire circumstances now. It does not appear to be because of lack of funding but a more fundamental lack of strategy and a failure to anticipate future testing needs by the administration.”
HHS didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The COVID-19 relief package Congress passed early last year included $47 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing. About $10 billion of that funding is left, Becerra told reporters last month. Congress provided an additional $35 billion in 2020.
COVID-19 cases have increased by more than 200% in the last 14 days as the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads throughout the U.S. The Biden administration has faced criticism that testing should be more widely available two years into the pandemic.
The administration announced last month it would purchase 500 million rapid tests that Americans can order for free online. The administration has also said it plans to issue rules by Jan. 15 allowing people to seek reimbursement for COVID-19 tests from their private insurance carriers.