Stalled negotiations cast doubt on US funding for global COVID-19 response

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U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before a meeting on coronavirus aid with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Photo by: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / Sipa USA via Reuters

WASHINGTON — U.S. congressional efforts to negotiate another COVID-19 funding bill have stalled, delaying new funding for the global pandemic response.

Discussions fell apart at the end of last week, when the House and Senate were unable to find middle ground on their proposals. The House bill included no funding for the global response, while the Senate bill included about $4 billion — far less than the $20 billion that advocates say is needed.

“We understand that the impasse is really around domestic issues, which are important — it means that development loses out yet again,” said Loyce Pace, president and executive director of the Global Health Council. While there was little funding for the global response included in either bill, there was hope that the ongoing discussions would result in additional funding, she said.

“If the U.S. and other donors don’t step up to help low-income countries, we could see a disaster of huge proportions in Africa and elsewhere.”

— Chris Collins, president, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

“There’s no question the needs are great, and I absolutely think we need to continue to push for a significant supplemental to help the U.S. respond internationally,” said Conor Savoy, executive director of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. But he has “serious concerns” about the funding being approved, “given the tenor of negotiations right now,” he said.

While negotiations could potentially start anew, the House is currently not scheduled to be back in session until mid-September, and Congress will then have two weeks to approve fiscal year 2021 spending bills or stopgap funding legislation, which would delay the full funding bill to later this year or beyond.

It is possible, though unlikely, that Congress may find another way to approve emergency global funding, experts told Devex.

The $2.25 billion in supplemental funding for the global response that has been approved so far falls short of what is needed, and delaying further funding will mean needs will grow, requiring more funding, development experts said.

“I’m still hopeful that Congress will come back and negotiate a supplemental, because from my perspective, they must do that,” said Chris Collins, president of Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. “I worry that if the U.S. and other donors don’t step up to help low-income countries, we could see a disaster of huge proportions in Africa and elsewhere.”

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is set to run out of coronavirus funding, he said, adding that it is critical for lawmakers to approve funding to get prevention services out now without delaying investments. Thousands of lives could be needlessly lost if those services are not delivered and scaled, Collins said.

What the US Congress might do next in funding global COVID-19 response

Expecting the Senate to take up discussions about the next COVID-19 supplemental funding bill, advocates make a final push to get lawmakers to include global funding in the legislation.

“U.S. funding is always a catalyst for other countries to come forward. We really need the U.S. again to lead on this to show the way to other donors,” he said.

The House of Representatives’ state and foreign operations funding bill for fiscal year 2021 includes $10 billion in emergency COVID-19 funding, but if a stopgap continuing resolution is passed, that funding would be delayed — likely past January.

While there are a number of nations, including lower- and middle-income countries, that have “done their part to fight this thing,” there is an increasing risk that existing programs and progress will suffer setbacks, Pace said, adding that U.S. investments could help bolster systems.

“I try not to sound too critical, but it’s so shortsighted,” she said. “That’s the real risk: It’s not keeping some semblance of the investments in place so that we don’t have these dual tsunamis emerge where we are not only fighting the pandemic and all that could unfold, but could also very much be fighting back diseases we thought we had under control.”

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.