Local, state government officials meet in DC to fight against Zika

WASHINGTON (WSVN) – Local and state government officials met on Capitol Hill, Thursday, in an effort to urge Congress to pass additional anti-Zika funding.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, City of Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine met with representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo in Washington, D.C. to continue lobbying for funding.

They are urging Congress to finally pass a long-overdue, $1.1 billion Zika bill. The aerial and ground spraying of the powerful mosquito pesticide is expected to cost Miami-Dade County somewhere close to $13 million.

While Wynwood has been declared Zika-free, the Miami Beach Zika zone has tripled in size and continues to grow. According to officials, five batches of mosquitoes collected in Miami Beach have tested positive for the virus.

Although the bill has not been passed, Republican Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is hopeful that Miami-Dade County will receive its reimbursement from the federal government, as well as funding for the Zika bill. “We are optimistic,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “Some of us more optimistic than others.”

“It’s frustrating, but I gotta tell you, we have a united delegation from South Florida,” said Levine. “They understand the urgency.”

Republicans in the House said they are close, but Democratic Rep. Wasserman Schultz said she is not as hopeful. “Democrats in the House have not been told that the Zika issue has been resolved,” said Wasserman Schultz. “In Washington, nothing is agreed to unless everything is agreed to.”

While there may be a disagreement, one matter they can all agree on is that the additional funding is crucial to end the epidemic. “This is not a one-year problem, this is going to be a recurring problem until they develop a vaccine,” said Gimenez.

After spending the day meeting with lawmakers, Gimenez and Levine came to the White House to push the bill. “It’s very important because we need to make sure the CDC, who has been so helpful to us, to have their presence on the ground,” said Levine.

Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged his peers to pass the bill. “This is an issue that continues to grow in urgency, and it has taken far too long for Congress to act,” he said.

Thursday evening, Rubio said they are getting closer to a deal on the Zika bill in the Senate. “We have reached a bipartisan agreement to fund the federal government’s response to this virus,” he said.

The bill must be passed by the end of the month. If not, the Zika vaccine trials, which are being conducted by the CDC, will be stopped. “I’m still shocked, disappointed that the federal government has not become a good partner,” he said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott visited D.C. last week, as well, urging lawmakers to hurry and pass the bill. On Thursday, he visited businesses in the Miami Beach Zika zone.

As hotels start to see cancellations from worried tourists, Scott expressed his frustration over how long Congress is taking to act.

The challenge for the Florida delegation is to convince their counterparts around the country that Zika impacts them, too. “Until it passes House, Senate and is signed into law, we cannot relax. We cannot sit back, and we cannot celebrate,” said Diaz-Balart.

“We’ve waited far too long. We cannot leave here on the 30th of September, next week, without moving something forward, and I think this the best chance to get it done,” said Rubio.

Scott said he will no longer wait for the federal government and has allocated $25 million of emergency state funds to go toward research. “All this is to take care of our pregnant women and their developing children,” he said.

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