Billion dollars for bioterrorism preparation headed to the states

Thursday, January 24th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly a billion dollars will soon begin flowing to states to prepare themselves for bioterrorism, by far the largest investment in state and local readiness.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday that he is requiring governors to sign off on their states' plans to ensure that governors are politically accountable and give it their personal attention.

``If you get the governors focused on this, they will be more apt to see that it works,'' said Thompson, who was governor of Wisconsin for 14 years before coming to Washington. ``We want to be sure we don't waste this money.''

Congress has provided nearly $3 billion for bioterrorism preparation this year, including about $1 billion to buy vaccines and antibiotics, just under $1 billion for federal agencies and about $1.1 billion to help state and local governments, who experts agree are far from prepared should bioterrorism strike.

A year ago, before the Sept. 11 and anthrax attacks, just $296 million was allocated for bioterrorism readiness.

Thompson said the large appropriation this year offered the first real opportunity to improve preparation on the state and local levels, and vowed to make sure states spend it wisely.

``We've never been able to get the necessary political or financial resources or commitment,'' he said. ``We have it now. I want to make darn sure we develop the best system possible.''

Thompson declined to say how much the Bush administration is requesting for the upcoming budget year, though it is not expected to be as much as this year's $3 billion.

HHS plans to award the first 20 percent of the state and local preparation money early next month. States will then be required to write a preparation plan, which must be approved by Thompson's newly installed Office of Public Health Preparedness. This central office is taking control of the bioterrorism effort, which was centered at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the past.

The money will be awarded to the states based on a formula, still being finalized.

HHS will offer technical advice and plans that can serve as templates for states and will help them share information about programs that work well.

States are expected to spend their money to build lab capacity; link more health departments to the national Health Alert Network, which provides warnings about disease outbreaks; add epidemiologists to state staffs and develop education and training programs for doctors, nurses, local public health officials and the public.

In addition, $125 million is specifically set aside to help hospitals prepare for a bioterrorism attack.