57ºF

Lawmakers from both parties urge Trump administration to keep funding seven coronavirus testing sites

photo

At issue are federal plans to stop funding sites in Houston, El Paso and Dallas on June 30. Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

WASHINGTON — Elected officials from both parties joined together in recent days to push back against the Trump administration's intention to stop funding seven Texas coronavirus testing sites at the end of the month.

At issue are federal plans to stop funding sites in Houston, El Paso and Dallas on June 30, as first reported by Talking Points Memo. The sites are a small piece of a much longer list of sites across the state run by private entities, local governments and the state. But the lawmakers are calling for the federal government to keep funding them as the number of Texans testing positive for the virus soars in Texas, particularly in the Houston region.

Coronavirus testing has ramped up in recent weeks in Texas. In April, Abbott set a goal of 30,000 daily tests in the state — a benchmark it consistently missed through the first half of June. The state's seven-day running average has surpassed the 30,000 mark every day this week.

A rare bipartisan phalanx of state and federal Houston legislators wrote letters to Trump administration officials and publicly pushed for funding to continue.

The city's four Democratic U.S. House members — U.S. Reps. Sylvia R. Garcia, Al Green, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee — joined together to send letters to U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Pete Gaynor in which the members expressed "urgent concern" over the matter.

"In May, when FEMA made the plan to end support on June 30, we could not have foreseen the continued rise in cases like we have in the past couple of weeks," they wrote. "Texas continues to set records for the number of new cases and hospitalizations and Harris County leads the state in number of confirmed cases.

"Without FEMA's supplies, fiscal aid and personnel, these sites may no longer be able to serve our communities. ... FEMA's removal in this moment would be harmful and irresponsible," they added. "We urgently ask you to extend FEMA's presence at these testing sites through August 30, 2020."

On the state legislative side, a band of representatives and senators representing Harris County also requested an Aug. 30 extension in their own letter to the Trump administration.

"The continuation of FEMA-supported COVID-19 testing is key to meeting the demands that will be placed on our healthcare system," they wrote to Deputy U.S. Surgeon General Erica Schwartz.

The bipartisan list of signees included state Sens. John Whitmire, Larry Taylor, Joan Huffman, Borris Miles and Carol Alvarado, along with state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Garnet Coleman, Alma A. Allen, Ana Hernandez, Armando Walle, Dan Huberty, Sarah Davis, Gene Wu, Mary Ann Perez, Jarvis Johnson, Shawn Thierry, Jon Rosenthal, Gina Calanni, Christina Morales and Anna Eastman.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made clear Wednesday afternoon that he also opposes the federal withdrawal, saying that "now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing."

"I agree with the Houston delegation ... and I believe they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get the most recent uptick in cases addressed," Cornyn said during a conference call with state reporters.

But Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday evening that Texas was prepared for the transition away from federal support for testing in the state.

"The good news is there is a strategy that will supplant and actually be superior to that strategy [that] we will be announcing soon," Abbott told KTVT-TV in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Pressed for a timeline, Abbott said the announcement would come "hopefully within a week."

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.