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Last Updated

04 Nov 2002

Source: Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2002.

Terrorism Grants Go to States, Cities

Policy: The U.S. begins releasing money to help local officials prepare for attacks. California, L.A. County get $20 million.

By MEGAN GARVEY and CARL INGRAM, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON -- The first installment from the $1.1 billion in bioterrorist preparedness funds was distributed to states and major cities Thursday, with nearly $20 million immediately going to California and Los Angeles County.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, who released $200 million of the total Thursday, called the federal grants the "largest one-time investment in the nation's public health system ever."

The plan earmarks about $100 million for California, with $70 million going to the state and $27.9 million more headed for Los Angeles County.

In his proposed state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, Gov. Gray Davis counts on the federal government giving the state about $350 million. State Health Services Director Diana Bonta praised the first payment as "good news."

The allocations, which come 21 days after President Bush signed into law $2.9 billion in bioterrorism funds, are meant to help Americans from the largest cities to the least populous states prepare for a potential bioterrorist attack.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a deadly anthrax attack launched through the mail, many local and state health officials had raised concerns that decades of inattention to the public health infrastructure had left them ill-prepared.

Top federal health officials hope the money doled out Thursday will help close some gaps in the health system, as well as ready the nation for even more devastating scenarios, such as an attack on a nuclear facility or the intentional spread of smallpox or other contagious diseases.

The grants to the states, which Thompson indicated he believed would be supplemented in future budgets, mark an ongoing effort to improve the public health response. Health officials also have been increasing the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile with drugs that could be used in the event of chemical, biological and nuclear attack.

Thompson on Thursday cited the ongoing effort to acquire potassium iodide, which is used to block the effects of radiation. About 1.6 million doses are in hand, health officials said, and plans are to purchase another 5 million to 10 million. And he said federal officials should now be able to deliver 600 tons of emergency medical supplies within a few hours of an attack anywhere in the nation.

One stumbling block for public health planners had been the ongoing troubles with Michigan-based BioPort Inc., the nation's only maker of the anthrax vaccine. The company had been unable to ship doses for four years because of factory violations, but on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration cleared it for renewed production.

"Everything is coming together to get us prepared," Thompson said.

Under the grant plan, the funds released to the states will be used to bolster preparedness plans, public health surveillance, laboratories and hospital facilities. About $14 million was made available Thursday to California, the most populous state, with about $6 million more to come after Davis files a comprehensive preparedness plan for the state due April 15.

Los Angeles County, one of four large metropolitan areas to get separate grants, received about $5.6 million immediately. The other cities were New York, Chicago and Washington. The nation's capital, which has about 750,000 residents, was awarded nearly $12 million by officials concerned that Washington is at heightened risk as the seat of government.

The money for bioterrorism preparedness comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and funding for the regional hospital response plans is from the Health Resources and Services Administration. Some smaller cities, including Glendale and Huntington Beach, also are receiving one-time grants of up to $400,000 to bring them in line with an existing program designed to ensure 80% of Americans are covered by an emergency response system.

"We don't want money wasted," said Thompson, who said his agency would be looking for the states to improve the ability of the public health system to monitor for problems and respond in a crisis.

Even as Thompson was announcing the allocation of the federal funds, a state watchdog commission warned that California's public health sector is unprepared to respond effectively in this new era of potential bioterrorism attacks.

In a report, the Little Hoover Commission on economy and efficiency in government said that the capabilities of California laboratories to detect biological weapons are "inadequate," that health-care professionals are not fully trained in dealing with large disasters and that hospitals are ill-prepared to receive large numbers of bioterror victims who may be ill with anthrax or smallpox.

The nonpartisan commission said the structure of the public health system was "perhaps the largest single weakness" to be exposed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. After accounting for inflation, local health departments in California receive less state money now than they did 50 years ago.

County health department administrators need a one-time transfusion of at least $70 million, plus $50 million each year in the future to improve their preparedness, the report said.

But Bonta and state homeland security advisor George Vinson said the infusion of $97.9 million from the federal government to California, including $27.9 million for Los Angeles County, would help overcome concerns raised by the Little Hoover Commission.

Bonta told reporters California wants to create an "optimum" system for combating biological terrorists. "This money goes a long way to making that happen," she said.

Bonta said she believed that Los Angeles County was singled out for a special allocation because it may be a potential "high profile" target, similar to New York City, which also received a special grant. She said even before Sept. 11, the county had received about $800,000 in federal aid for anti-bioterrorist programs.

Bonta said the state would immediately submit its anti-bioterrorism plan to the federal government and expects to receive the first batch of funds quickly. California has already implemented many of the federal requirements for receiving the grants, she said.

She said the grants would be spent on such processes as managing the mass storing and distribution of vaccines and antibiotics and beefing up laboratories with new equipment and enhanced staffs.