CA lawmakers OK $41M for monkeypox response

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 31, 2022
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State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photo: Courtesy Twitter
State Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Photo: Courtesy Twitter

The California Senate on Wednesday approved a $41 million emergency budget appropriation for the state's public health response to the monkeypox outbreak.

Pulled together through the efforts of Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles), with the help of gay Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the package was added this week to the Budget Act of 2022. The funding is much needed, as the state continues its efforts to wrangle the MPX virus into submission.

"I believe there's no time to waste," Assembly Budget Chair Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) told the Bay Area Reporter. "California has one the highest number of monkeypox cases in the United States. With any public health emergency, the key is to act quickly with resources. That's why I'm supportive of appropriating millions in state funding now, so that communities and patients get what they need without delay to fight this latest emerging virus."

In July, Wiener — who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Monkeypox — organized and spearheaded a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and legislative leadership requesting the emergency budget allocation.

"We've been fighting like hell to ensure California effectively responds to the monkeypox outbreak, and this emergency appropriation will be a huge help at both the state and local level. Monkeypox is a painful and isolating disease, and it's having a major impact on the LGBTQ community," Wiener stated.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health stated it was looking forward to the allotment, but were still awaiting important details.

"We look forward to further state support for testing, treatment, vaccine, and education and outreach," SFDPH stated in an email to the B.A.R. "We are still awaiting information from the California Department of Public Health on when this money will be allocated and what it will be allocated for."

The appropriation, part of Senate Bill 179, passed Wednesday night 31-7. The Assembly also passed it earlier in the day, 43-8.

Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, stated that the bill provides "new funding to strengthen our public health response to MPX."

On August 29, Wiener tweeted, "This appropriation will support critical public health efforts around monkeypox by our state Department of Public Health, county health department & community-based health providers."

"Huge thanks to @GavinNewsom, Senate President @SenToniAtkins, Speaker @RendonAnthony, & Budget Chairs @PhilTing & @NancySkinnerCA for stepping up & getting this done. So many are deeply appreciative for California's continuing commitment to public health & our LGBTQ community," the tweet continued.

APLA CEO Craig Thompson also hailed the funds in a statement.

"Importantly, the emergency budget allocation will include additional funding — roughly $1.5 million — for community health centers to administer vaccines to eligible patients and community members," Thompson stated in an email announcement that also thanked legislative leaders. "APLA Health to date has administered over 2,000 doses of the MPV vaccine, but has yet to receive any specific funding to support these efforts. Health centers have and will continue to be key partners in reaching many of the most vulnerable and underserved members of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly Black and Latino gay and bisexual men and transgender people."

Statewide, there has been a huge drop in the number of cases of MPX from a high of nearly 150 per day at the beginning of August, to just a few per day as of August 26. In San Francisco, there were 718 confirmed cases as of August 29. The Bay Area as a whole had 1,239 confirmed cases as of August 30, with Alameda County having the second highest number of cases in the region at 189. Santa Clara County comes in at 129 cases. Napa County had the smallest case load, with only six confirmed cases.

Last week, at a press conference at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) said between 250,000 and 350,000 Californians can be considered high risk for MPX, and that the state needs 800,000 vaccinations to stop the spread of the virus.

How the emergency funds will be allocated has yet to be determined, said Raayan Mohtashemi, an aide to Wiener, but final determination about where the money goes rests with the California Department of Public Health.

"The budget bill does include language that the intent of the Legislature is for CDPH to consult with local health jurisdictions about how to most effectively allocate the resources appropriated in these budget items," Mohtashemi wrote in an email to the B.A.R.

Local health jurisdictions will receive $15,750,000 with $1.5 million allocated specifically to community-based organizations for vaccine clinic administration. The bulk, $25,679,000, is destined for state-level assistance for CDPH, Mohtashemi said.

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