The White House is running out of money for its COVID response The White House asked for more money from Congress to keep its COVID response going. But that hasn't happened, so some things need to be wound down.

The White House says it's running out of money to cover COVID tests and vaccines

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The White House is raising alarms about money for COVID prevention and treatment running out. In a letter to Congress, leaders warn the U.S. risks being blindsided by another variant. As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, it's far from certain Congress will be able to pass the funds the Biden administration insists are badly needed.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When the White House asks Congress for money, the consequences of failing to get it aren't always so clear. But Deputy COVID Response Coordinator Natalie Quillian says the administration was set to put in an order for more monoclonal antibody treatments next week, and now they can't.

NATALIE QUILLIAN: We have used any flexibility we had, which was limited, and now we actually need more funding, as we've warned, and we need it as soon as possible. We are forgoing contracts we planned to do this month because we don't have the funding to lock them in.

KEITH: She says the government is cutting back shipments to states and could still run out of those treatments as soon as May. Funds to provide COVID care for the uninsured are almost all gone. Vaccine supplies are in question, too. And while COVID cases are relatively low now, there's a very real chance another variant could hit, Quillian says.

QUILLIAN: We need to remember the dark days and how quickly a variant can come if it comes. And by the time it's coming, by the time cases are increasing, by the time if we had a new variant, it's too late to secure the tools we need.

KEITH: The White House had asked Congress to include $22.5 billion for COVID preparedness in the big government funding bill President Biden signed yesterday. The bill got bipartisan support, but agreement on the COVID funding proved elusive. Republican Senator Mitt Romney from Utah says he agrees more money is needed to pay for treatments and to prepare for whatever COVID brings next, but he and his fellow Republicans argue Congress has already set aside trillions of dollars for the COVID response, and that hasn't all been spent yet.

MITT ROMNEY: We had agreed, Republicans and Democrats, for $15 billion to go in the last bill that would pay for all these things the White House says are needed.

KEITH: Some of the 15 billion would have come from clawing back money states hadn't used yet, but governors balked, and too many Democrats in the House said they couldn't support it. It was stripped out at the last minute. Now House Democrats say they plan to vote on a stand-alone funding measure, but Senate Republicans won't go for it. Here's Romney again.

ROMNEY: This is up to the president to deal with his own party and get them to provide the funding which was agreed to. And if they don't want to use that funding, find additional sources.

KEITH: The White House objects to the idea that emergency COVID funds should be treated like any other budgetary question. Here's Press Secretary Jen Psaki in the briefing yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: We believe that this should be provided on an emergency basis, not something where there - it will require offsets. It shouldn't have to require taking money from states who are using it.

KEITH: But while this debate rages on, there's no obvious path for a funding bill to get to the president's desk and no obvious way to avoid the dire consequences the White House warns will begin next week.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

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