Pence tells governors money for coronavirus costs is coming

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Vice President Mike Pence, with White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx second from left, and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health Anthony Fauci, left, and other members of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, speaks to reporters in the Brady press briefing room of the White House, Monday, March 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

MIAMI, Fla. – The Trump administration on Monday reassured governors that they will be reimbursed for at least some of the costs of responding to the spread of the coronavirus, as several states began setting aside millions of dollars to head off a public health crisis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Vice President Mike Pence addressed state needs for equipment and funding to fight the spread of the coronavirus during a call with governors. He told them the administration would find the money to reimburse them.

“What the vice president is envisioning as a former governor is ‘Look, you guys need to be able to combat this thing. So you guys do what you’ve got to do. We will appropriate money and then simply reimburse you on the back end,’” DeSantis, a Republican, said at a news conference in Miami after confirming two people had been tested positive in Florida.

Coronavirus cases have topped 100 in the U.S. and have spread to nearly a dozen states. Of those, six cases have been fatal, all in Washington state.

In Congress, bipartisan negotiations are nearly complete on $7 billion to $8 billion in emergency funding to battle the virus, according to both Democratic and GOP aides. The measure appears on track to be unveiled as early as Tuesday, and the hope is to speed it quickly through both House and Senate by the end of the week.

The measure would finance both federal and state response efforts, fund the federal government’s drive to develop and produce a vaccine, and offer Small Business Administration disaster loans to help businesses affected by coronavirus concerns.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said he hopes Congress will pass the measure within the next 10 days.

“We are going to fight for the money that is necessary to be effective and stop this disease from becoming a pandemic,” he said.

State officials say they need the money for a wide array of expenses, including protective gear, housing and transporting those under quarantine, overtime for medical workers performing lab tests and public information campaigns.

Health officials in Washington state say they have already spent $3.5 million in response. The state’s Secretary of Health John Wiesman asked state lawmakers Monday for an additional $100 million for the budget year that ends in July 2021 so that the state’s public health system can adequately respond to the number of cases of coronavirus in the state.

“We want to mount a response that is the right response for Washington and one where I’m not worried about ‘Do I have the money to actually mount the response we need,’” Wiesman told state lawmakers.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will ask lawmakers to approve $40 million to respond to the threat, including hiring additional health care workers and buying supplies. Cuomo said he wants to ensure the state’s public health laboratory could handle up to 1,000 cases of coronavirus a day. The state Assembly was scheduled to consider the request Monday night.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will ask the Legislature to allocate up to $20 million toward the virus response. The state had 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Monday, more than half of which were related to federal repatriation flights.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has requested $10.5 million from the Legislature to pay for coronavirus response efforts over the next four months. In Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy is asking lawmakers to provide more than $4 million as part of the state’s efforts to prepare for the virus. His budget request also would include allowing the state to receive up to $9 million in federal money.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association and was present for Monday's call, is submitting a $10 million supplemental budget to the Maryland Legislature.

“They’re doing a similar thing at the federal level, but they did address that they realize that they’re going to be having to reimburse states for some of the expenses that we incur,” Hogan said. “Nobody knows at this point exactly what those expenses are going to be. It’s just in anticipation of the potential that the crisis could escalate and get much worse.”

The governors said Pence, who Trump tapped to lead the U.S. response, also assured them they would have access to appropriate medical supplies such as masks, gowns and respirators if needed.


Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, Dave Collins, in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Washington, Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, Andrew Taylor in Washington, D.C., and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.