The nation’s governors say they can’t count on Washington to supply the medical equipment needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, so they are making plans to band together and procure supplies themselves.
The idea comes as a result of a depleted Strategic National Stockpile and aFederal Emergency Management Agency that has repeatedly failed to get states what they need.
Such a consortium has already been created in the Midwest, bringing together the buying power of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. During a news conference on Thursday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said such an expanded, nationwide group is necessary if the issues with aid continue. “If the federal government is not going to do it, then the states have to do it,” he said.
President Donald Trump has spoken of “great coordination” between state and federal governments, yet the needs for personal protective equipment and ventilators remain unmet after weeks. Governors said this week that they’re still facing shortages, delays and confusing demands as they try to supply hospitals. Trump has urged governors to seek out their own equipment and supplies, but they have been competing not only with one another but also with FEMA.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and California Governor Gavin Newsom started having conversations about collaborating on PPE procurement and distribution about two weeks ago, according to Mike Faulk, a spokesman for Inslee. Nothing concrete has come of the conversations yet. Solano County public health officer Bela Matyas said he was aware that California was working with other states to reduce competition, but said it’s difficult given the inherent tension: “Officials have to look out for their states first.”
In an ideal scenario, Cuomo said, “the federal government is the purchaser in chief, strategist in chief. FEMA buys the equipment, distributes it to the states that need it. That’s option A, and I think that’s a viable option.” Option B is to create a purchasing consortium among states where they’re not competing against one another, he said.
FEMA didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Thursday.
Cuomo said he plans to work on creating such a consortium through the National Governors Association, which confirmed Thursday the idea is being considered. Cuomo currently serves as vice chairman and will lead the group in a few months.
The lack of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies, like ventilators, has been well documented nationwide, as health-care workers tell of reusing respirator masks and wearing garbage bags to work in lieu of medical gowns. Nurses unions nationwide are demanding more PPE. And the Service Employees International Union, the largest health-care worker union in the country, held protests Thursday, demanding the federal government provide equipment.
But the Strategic National Stockpile has been depleted of protective equipment, according to a document released Wednesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. In an effort to restock, FEMA has been commandeering supplies from states and bidding against them, helping to drive costs up.
Trump has repeatedly said FEMA would stop bidding against states, but the behavior continues, governors say. The president initially urged states to fend for themselves, declining to get FEMA involved until recently.
As Cuomo left his briefing Thursday, a reporter asked how confident he felt in the federal government’s ability to respond to the crisis.
“How confident am I of federal responsibility and action?” he said. “Not that confident.”
— With assistance by Sophie Alexander, and Keshia Clukey
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