Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Sen. Ernst is right on funding for CDC and NIH

As coronavirus concerns mount, she defends funding of public health

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks Feb. 28 with members of the media in Coralville. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Sen. Joni Ernst speaks Feb. 28 with members of the media in Coralville. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

At a Feb. 28 event in Coralville, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed her faith in the nation’s public health agencies to meet the coronavirus crisis.

“If you go back and actually look at CDC and NIH funding, we as Congress actually increased NIH funding over the past number of years,” Ernst said to Gazette reporter James Q. Lynch.

A Gazette reader asked us to Fact Check this statement — likely because Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg claimed the opposite during a Democratic presidential debate.

Much has changed since Ernst defended the funding levels of these public health agencies.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national state of emergency in response to coronavirus, and major institutions — including the NBA, several universities and scores of public K-12 schools — are closing or rescheduling in hopes of stemming COVID-19’s spread.

While the U.S. response to this pandemic seems to be changing from day to day, we’re going to look further back at the budgets Congress allocated to both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Analysis

We reached out to Ernst’s Senate office for their sourcing on this claim. They directed us to the fiscal 2020 appropriations package as well as a fact check from the Associated Press of Biden and Bloomberg’s conflicting claims.

In December 2019, Ernst supported an appropriations package that included $2.6 billion more for the NIH and $636.8 million more for the CDC.

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Although Trump had called for cuts to public health, according to the AP, Congress ignored him and ultimately increased funding. Trump signed the federal budget package that sent more money to both the NIH and the CDC.

Graded an A

Biden incorrectly has said Trump “cut the funding for the entire effort” and erased previous funding increases for the NIH and CDC. Bloomberg, who is no longer in the race for president, also wrongly said Trump “defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC, so we don’t have the organization we need.”

“Indeed,” the AP fact-checkers wrote, “the money that government disease detectives first tapped to fight the latest outbreak was a congressional fund created for health emergencies.”

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, funding for the NIH was directed toward targeted Alzheimer’s research, the President’s Childhood Cancer Data Initiative and general cancer research.

Increased funding for the CDC was aimed at HIV prevention through expanded use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, global health security, suicide prevention, a new research facility and data modernization within the center.

Conclusion

While no one knows yet if public health agencies will be able to adequately respond to the coronavirus pandemic, Ernst is right that Congress has increased funding for both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We give her an A.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Molly Duffy of The Gazette.

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