RI getting over $7 million in federal coronavirus aid so far

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is already seeing an influx of federal money from Washington to deal with coronavirus, even before Congress finishes work on a stimulus bill that could total trillions of dollars.

• Update: $1.25 billion coming to RI from huge economic rescue bill, Reed says

On March 4, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention disclosed it would send Rhode Island $500,000 in initial funding “for monitoring travelers, data management, lab equipment, supplies, infection control, and surge staffing,” according to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s office. The Trump administration said the money was transferred from other health programs.

Two days later, on March 6, President Trump signed the first measure passed by Congress to deal with the pandemic: the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act. That law will provide Rhode Island with at least $4.9 million in funding to help the state deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the administration. The state can also apply for more funding under the law.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said lawmakers included a “small-state minimum” in the legislation — a provision which boosts the amount of money that smaller states like Rhode Island receive compared with what they would get on a pure formula basis.

“This emergency funding is a down payment that will help ensure Rhode Island has the resources to prepare and effectively respond to the coronavirus crisis,” Reed said in a statement.

On Tuesday, it was announced that the same law will yield $539,000 for eight community health centers — in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Newport, Woonsocket, Johnston, Burrillville and Hopkinton — so they can buy supplies, improve telehealth and tackle screening and testing.

“This federal funding will give neighborhood health centers the ability to test and treat patients with milder cases of respiratory illness, relieving some of the burden on our hospitals,” said Reed, Whitehouse and their two U.S. House colleagues — David Cicilline and Jim Langevin — in a joint statement.

Another law — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed by Trump on March 18 following negotiations between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — will send Rhode Island $1.2 million to help provide meals for elderly residents, according to the administration.

“Getting more funds to community organizations that deliver meals to older adults, such as Meals on Wheels, is another example of the Trump administration’s whole-of-government, whole-of-America approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

All the money announced so far is expected to be dwarfed by the dollars that will be steered to Rhode Island if the White House and lawmakers reach agreement, as expected, on a massive stimulus bill that has consumed Capitol Hill for the past week. Politico reported Tuesday night the price tag for that legislation could be nearly $2 trillion.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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