The continuing resolution funds most federal agencies at current levels through mid-December, but provides additional funding to several agencies and programs.
The CR includes a reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee agreements for an additional five years. That provision will prevent the agency from having to furlough more than 3,500 employees who work on approving drug and medical device applications.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents FDA employees, said the agency could have relied on carryover funds to delay furlough notices, had the reauthorization not been included in the CR.
A temporary furlough would have left FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) with 1,500 full-time employees, and half as many at the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) applauded the CR that would avert FDA furloughs but said he is pursuing a package of agency reforms that didn’t make it into the stopgap spending bill.
“While I am pleased that we are reauthorizing user fees, which will prevent layoffs at the agency and allow FDA to continue its mission, I will continue pushing for the widely supported improvements at the agency,” Pallone said.
The agency reform bill the House passed in June, in addition to the reauthorization, would have accelerated FDA approvals and improved clinical trial diversity.
The CR also includes $18.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to current and future disasters, including Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida on Wednesday.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said she was disappointed the CR stripped out funding for COVID and monkeypox.
“Despite these shortcomings, the investments included in this bill are urgent and necessary to avoid disruptions to vital federal agencies, to help communities get back on their feet, to ensure we have the time needed to negotiate a final funding agreement that meets the needs of hardworking people,” DeLauro said.
The lack of additional COVID-19 funds prevents the administration from restarting its program to issue free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests to households through COVIDTests.gov.
COVIDTests.gov suspended operations on Sept. 2, “because Congress hasn’t provided additional funds to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests,” according to a statement on the website.
A Biden administration official told reporters on Sept. 2 that the federal government has some at-home tests remaining in its national stockpile, but without additional funding, it won’t be able to replenish its inventory to prepare for any potential uptick of COVID-19 cases in the fall.
The Postal Service delivered more than 600 million COVID-19 rapid tests since the program launched in January. Households have been able to place three orders for a total of 16 tests.
Without additional COVID-19 funding, administration officials said updated COVID-19 booster shots approved by the FDA will be free to the public “through the fall into next year,” but the timeline beyond that remains unclear.
Congressional Republicans rejected the administration’s emergency request for COVID funding, and a similar request in March. They insisted the administration instead offset emergency COVID spending by repurposing previously appropriated funds.
Administration officials said earlier this month the White House has “been open to having a conversation about offsets,” but said it’s unable to repurpose COVID spending already approved by Congress.
Biden, however, undercut his administration’s request for additional COVID-19 funding in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sept. 18, in which he declared that “the pandemic is over.”
“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” Biden said.
The White House said the money would have been used to accelerate the research and development of vaccines and therapeutics, prepare for future COVID-19 variants and support the global response.
The CR also includes $12 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, on top of more than $50 billion provided in two previous bills.
The money will go to provide training, equipment and logistics support for the Ukraine military, help Ukraine’s government provide basic services to its citizens and replenish U.S. weapons systems and munitions.