Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Puerto Rican Lawmakers Call for Swift Action on Zika

Aug 17, 2016
Press Release
Request $1.9 Billion in Emergency Funding

Washington, DC – Three Puerto Rican Members of Congress have written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives calling for Congress to swiftly allocate resources to address the growing threat of the Zika virus. 

In a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (D-WI), Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Congressman Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR) and Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY) called for Congress to appropriate $1.9 billion in emergency funding to address Zika, as previously requested by the Administration.

“By failing to act, House Republicans are abdicating Congress’ solemn responsibility to protect the American people.  This terrible disease poses a danger to all Americans, to New Yorkers and has already been impacting Puerto Rico. Congress needs to act responsibly and swiftly to address this growing threat. Public health experts have made clear that the funding the House previously passed is woefully insufficient and this failure is shameful and unacceptable. Speaker Ryan needs to act before more Americans are put at risk,” said Rep. Velázquez.

“Puerto Rico is, by far, the U.S. jurisdiction most impacted by Zika.  There are already over 10,000 confirmed cases, including over 1,000 confirmed cases in pregnant women, and the true numbers are likely far higher.  The Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika also carries dengue and chikungunya, which have each caused serious public health and economic problems in Puerto Rico in recent years.  It is critical that the federal government, working in conjunction with the scientific community, take the steps necessary to combat Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses in all U.S. jurisdictions, including Puerto Rico, with a particular focus on cutting-edge methods of vector control that can substantially reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.  To accomplish this goal, far more resources are required—and required fast.  When Congress returns to work in September, it is my fervent hope that the House and Senate will act in the best interest of this country,” said Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
“Republicans in Congress have failed the American people by preventing an adequate funding bill to address the Zika crisis from being debated and passed. Redirecting funds from one epidemic to another is not enough- there is already a public health crisis in Puerto Rico, and further delay leaves us vulnerable to the outbreak in the 50 states. With each and every day we drag our feet on approving the Administration’s full request, we are putting more women and children at grave risk of transmission. Enough is enough; it is time for Congressional Republicans to take this crisis seriously and to immediately approve the funds necessary to deal with this crisis in a comprehensive manner,” said Congressman Serrano.

The full text of the letter is below:

August 16, 2016

The Honorable Paul D. Ryan

Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives

H-237 U.S. Capitol

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Speaker Ryan:

We write to express our serious concern over the increasing threat posed by the Zika virus and the need for immediate Congressional action on emergency funding.  Puerto Rico, with 10,000 cases, is ground zero for this virus. Moreover, several states, including Florida and Texas, have now seen locally transmitted cases.  This demonstrates the significant challenges associated with combating Zika, and the need to act swiftly to ensure that we have the necessary tools at our disposal.  For this reason we strongly support the administration’s request of $1.9 billion in emergency appropriations to combat this international public health threat and request the House of Representatives immediately consider legislation to fund ongoing response and research efforts at this level.

It is clear we still have a lot to learn about Zika virus and both the short-term and long-term health implications for those affected by the virus.  Where Zika was once thought to only spread via mosquitoes, we now know it can be sexually transmitted and can even stay in the system for weeks after infection.  As Zika continues to spread, it is imperative that we make immediate, sustained investments in research that, hopefully, will yield a vaccine, diagnostic method, and prevention strategy.  Unfortunately, current funding that was shifted to the National Institutes of Health will soon be exhausted.  Congressional inaction will lead to real-world consequences—Phase II trials of a Zika vaccine will be delayed until new funding is provided.

The current Zika outbreak has spread rapidly and brought the epidemic to our doorstep.  There are almost 2,000 reported cases of Zika in the 50 states to date with six of them being locally transmitted.  More alarmingly, there have also been over 10,000 cases reported in the U.S. territories, resulting in Secretary Burwell declaring a public health emergency for Puerto Rico – signaling that the current spread of Zika poses a significant threat to public health on the island.  Even the Defense Department has reported that at least 40 Americans on active military duty, including a pregnant woman, have contracted the Zika virus during service in countries where mosquitos are transmitting the disease.  The spread of Zika in the Western Hemisphere has been swift and damaging.  The number of cases will continue to rise until Congress acts.

The most troubling aspect of Zika remains in its threat to pregnant women and their babies.  Nearly 1,000 cases have been confirmed in pregnant women in the U.S. mainland and the U.S. territories.  As you know, Zika-related birth defects, like Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly are life threatening and lifelong illnesses.  Given these neonatal neurological implications of this virus, it is unconscionable to further delay action on this very critical issue.

We are gravely concerned about the implications of this virus and, for this reason, believe that response and research efforts must have Congress’ full attention.  The risks are too great to wait.  Therefore, we urge you to make Zika funding your top priority and promptly bring legislation, such as H.R. 5044, the Emergency Supplemental on the Zika Virus, which provides at least $1.9 billion in appropriations to the House floor as soon as possible.


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