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senate Bill S. 1340

Should the U.S. Provide Assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Address its Ebola Outbreak?

Argument in favor

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Ebola outbreak is an emerging crisis both within and outside the country’s borders. Given that cases have been reported in both the DRC’s biggest city and neighboring Uganda, it’s critical for the U.S. and others to fully fund efforts to stop this outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic.

Argument opposed

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Tier 3 status in the State Dept.’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) makes it ineligible for non-humanitarian and non-trade-related U.S. assistance. Additionally, USAID has already spent over $136 million since August 2018 to address the DRC’s Ebola outbreak so this bill is unnecessary.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Foreign Relations
    IntroducedMay 7th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 1340?

This bill — the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019 — would require the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide certain forms of foreign assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to address the recent Ebola outbreak. Under current law, the U.S. can provide humanitarian assistance, such as medical supplies, to the DRC. However, because the DRC is a Tier 3 country under the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act of 2000 (TVPA), it cannot provide other types of foreign assistance, such as support for medical personnel, community outreach programs, and infrastructure improvement. 

Impact

USAID; TVPA; State Dept.’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP); U.S. foreign aid; Ebola; epidemic and pandemic prevention; Africa; DRC and its neighbors.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1340

$70.00 Million
The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would cost $70 million over the 2019-2024 period.

More Information

In-DepthSenate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced this bill to direct the Trump administration to respond to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by authorizing USAID to provide assistance to Ebola-affected communities. Last year, the Trump administration cited the DRC’s Tier 3 ranking in the State Dept.’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) as a reason for cutting off aid to the country, including funds to address Ebola. In a press release upon introducing this bill in May 2019, Sen. Menendez said: 

“I fully support the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but the sanctions authorized by that law were never meant to cost innocent lives. The lack of clarity from the White House on which activities should be restricted due to TIP sanctions is preventing USAID from executing a strategy which would help save lives in DRC, and prevent this outbreak from becoming a massive epidemic like the one in West Africa in 2014.  This common sense legislation makes clear that USAID can legally move forward with assistance to combat the Ebola outbreak, including to help healthcare workers safely access affected communities.” 

In August 1, 2019 remarks on the Senate floor on the one-year anniversary of the DRC’s Ebola outbreak, Sen. Menendez added that urgent action is needed:  

“We no longer have the luxury of half-hearted international engagement. We need a multifaceted, multi-sectoral, international response to get this under control.  We know all too well that infectious diseases have no borders. It’s one airplane flight away from coming to our borders. And that has happened before. I urge my colleagues to work with me in passing S.1340, the Ebola Eradication Act of 2019, as it is currently drafted and as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed it in June.  This is an opportunity to ultimately save lives. It's an opportunity to stop an epidemic. It's an opportunity to preserve our own interests by making sure Ebola doesn't come to the shores of the United States. It should be a no-brainer.” 

Sen. Menendez also observes that the DRC’s status as a Tier 3 country under the TIP Report doesn’t preclude providing assistance to address the country’s Ebola outbreak: 

“The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) currently ranks DRC as a Tier 3 country, which means its government does not meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and may be sanctioned, pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).  The Trump Administration has cited DRC’s Tier 3 ranking as a reason to limit its assistance, drastically impacting the United States’ ability to fund critical interventions in the DRC and other vulnerable countries to combat the Ebola outbreak notwithstanding the sanctions required by the TVPA. “Make no mistake, President Trump could have done this himself months ago. [The TVPA] was never intended to hurt the most vulnerable in society, or to be used as an excuse to ignore a deadly epidemic with international implications… we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that serve no purpose and slow down our response even as the disease continues to kill more and more people.”

House sponsor Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) says

“More than 1,200 people have died from Ebola in northeastern Congo since August of last year. The rising numbers of new Ebola cases demand our attention and action to ensure we do not face another epidemic. This outbreak is at risk of becoming a pandemic if it is not brought under control. Despite the use of preventive tools and new therapeutics, the number of cases continue to rise.  This legislation makes it clear to USAID that they can legally move forward with assistance to combat the Ebola outbreak appropriately.”

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have argued that TIP restrictions shouldn’t constrain responses to Ebola. In a July 2019 hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) argued that TIP restrictions that obstruct U.S. responses to threats like Ebola don’t “comport with the intent behind the legislation.” Similarly, Rep. Bass has argued that “not focusing resources on health, education, and community outreach hinders the success of countering the Ebola outbreak in the DRC.”

While USAID has said that its current Ebola response isn’t funded by resources affected by the TIP Report, USAID Assistant Administrator Tim Ziemer acknowledged in congressional testimony that “additional funding would complement the current outbreak response.” Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, USAID Administrator Mark Green expressed strong support for this bill.

The Trump administration has released a new Global Health Security Strategy reaffirming its commitment to tackling global health threats around the world and recognizing global health security as a national security strategy. The strategy expresses the United States’ commitment to efforts to “prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.” As part of this, the strategy commits the U.S. to strengthening health systems in partner countries, such as improving vaccination campaigns for Ebola and other infectious diseases. USAID Administrator Green calls this strategy a critical piece of preventing diseases, such as Ebola, which “jeopardize the health, security, and prosperity of all countries, including the United States.”

At the end of July 2019, USAID announced plans to send over $38 million to the DRC, several of the DRC’s neighboring countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat the DRC’s Ebola outbreak. The agency will send $15 million to the WHO; fund “critical preparedness efforts” in Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda; and fund training for health care workers, enhanced Ebola surveillance and the promotion of safe burials and food. According to the agency, USAID has spent over $136 million since the Ebola outbreak was reported in August 2018.

However, there are also some ways in which the administration failed to respond to the DRC’s Ebola outbreak with urgency. Despite urging by the World Health Organization (WHO), the State Dept. has not allowed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff to go into the field in the DRC. 

This bill passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a voice vote with the support of five bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including four Republicans and one Democrat. Its House version, sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), has 36 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 35 Democrats and one Republican, and has yet to receive a committee vote.


Of NoteThe current Ebola outbreak in the DRC was first reported in August 2018. It’s the 10th outbreak in the country’s history, and now that it has killed over 1,800 people as of June 2019, it’s the second-deadliest in the country’s history. The 2014 outbreak, which killed over 11,000 people, was projected to spread to as many as 550,000 people and cost over $32 billion to combat, remains the DRC’s deadliest-ever Ebola outbreak.

On July 17, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) after it was found in the populous Congolese city of Goma, which is home to nearly two million people. According to Sen. Menendez’s office, experts address that “a new strategy, one which identifies development activities that go beyond health, is needed to gain the trust of local communities, and pave the way to greater access for health care workers.”

As of June 2019, the current outbreak had escalated into the second-most deadly Ebola outbreak in history. It had also crossed the border into Uganda. The disease’s spread is being facilitated in part by conflict and violence in the DRC, which are preventing an effective response. Oxfam, an international nonprofit working in the DRC, warns that recent Ebola cases in Goma and Uganda “show the devastating potential for [this outbreak] to spiral out of control.”

The TIP Report divides countries into three tiers based on individual governments’ efforts to combat trafficking within their borders. The TIP Report is the U.S. government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking, and is used to engage foreign governments in dialogues to advance anti-trafficking reforms, combat trafficking, and target anti-human trafficking resources. It’s also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-trafficking efforts, reflecting the U.S. government’s commitment to global leadership on human trafficking.

Countries categorized as Tier 3 in the TIP Report (as the DRC was in the 2018 TIP Report) are ineligible for non-humanitarian and non-trade-related U.S. assistance. While these restrictions have been waived in the past, they have not been waived in the DRC’s case. Instead, the Trump administration has cited the DRC’s Tier 3 status as justification for not providing assistance to the country to address its Ebola outbreak. 


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Cesare Ferrari)

AKA

Ebola Eradication Act of 2019

Official Title

A bill to authorize activities to combat the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and for other purposes.

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