Obama seeks $6.2 billion to combat Ebola: officials

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[November 06, 2014] By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama asked the U.S. Congress on Wednesday to approve $6.18 billion in new emergency funds this fiscal year to combat Ebola where it is raging in West Africa, as well as in the United States.

According to documents provided to Congress, the administration wants lawmakers to provide $4.5 billion in funds for immediate response to the deadly disease and another $1.5 billion in contingency money.

In a letter to House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Obama said his top priority is to protect the health and safety of Americans and the request would cover that.

"Over the longer term, my administration recognizes that the best way to prevent additional cases at home will be to contain and eliminate the epidemic at its source in Africa," he said.

The request followed mid-term elections on Tuesday in which Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate from Obama's fellow Democrats and increased their majority in the House.

Concern about the Ebola outbreak played a major part in election campaigning with Republicans portraying the outbreak as one of many areas in which Obama's policies have fallen short.

The Ebola outbreak has resulted in nearly 5,000 deaths in West Africa and nine cases treated in the United States since August, including a Liberian who died on Oct. 8 in Dallas.

The Senate and House Appropriations Committees are assembling a $1 trillion spending package to fund a wide range of federal programs for the rest of the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30. The Ebola request would be folded into that bill, to be debated by Dec. 11, when existing government funds run out.

CONGRESS WILL REVIEW REQUEST

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner, said congressional appropriators would review Obama's request. "We'll continue to work with our members and the administration to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the public from a deadly disease," he said.

The White House wants $1.83 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent, detect and respond to the Ebola epidemic and other diseases and public health emergencies abroad and in the United States.

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An additional $1.98 billion would go to the U.S. Agency for International Development for foreign assistance in the Ebola crisis.

And $127 million would go to the State Department to expand its medical support and evacuation capacity and $112 million for the Defense Department, including funding to support efforts to develop technologies relevant to the Ebola crisis.

That would include using antibodies from Ebola survivors and survivors of other infectious diseases to provide immunity to the disease as a stopgap until a vaccine is available.

The administration is also asking for $1.54 billion for a contingency fund, divided between Health and Human Services, USAID and State to ensure resources are available to adapt as the crisis evolves.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Cynthia Osterman)

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