WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez today urged President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) and the authorities contained within in order to expand national production of needed medical supplies like masks, ventilators and respirators, and to expand hospital capacity to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus.
"In the midst of a pandemic, state and local governments should not be left on their own scrambling to buy ventilators for patients, personal protective gear for health care workers on the frontlines, and other critical medical supplies. We need the federal government to aggressively step up its leadership in the battle against COVID-19 by mobilizing the mass production of urgently-needed equipment, preparing for the staging of temporary hospitals and beds, and using every lever of executive power to save lives,” said Sen. Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee that has jurisdiction over the DPA. "It is time the United States of America live up to its history of defeating extraordinary challenges and prevailing in the face of great uncertainty. That is why I am calling on the President to immediately exercise the powers authorized by the Defense Production Act (DPA) to defend the health and safety of the American people."
Originally passed in 1950 at the onset of the Korean War and modelled after the War Powers Acts of World War II, the DPA has been expanded beyond ensuring military preparedness, but also domestic preparedness, response and recovery from natural hazards and national emergencies.
“While the administration’s response has so far lacked the urgency this crisis has called for, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the damage,” the senator wrote to President Trump. “Invoking the powers vested in the DPA will enable the federal government to step up and take the type of aggressive steps needed in this time of uncertainty.”
The senator cited worst-case projections from the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) for the need for more aggressive federal action, namely that up to 21 million of the up to 214 million people that could contract COVID-19 in the U.S. would require hospitalization when our hospital system has less than 1 million staffed beds nationwide.
Under the DPA, the federal government can use loans, direct purchases, procurement of equipment and other means to incentivize persons or businesses to prioritize manufacturing of critical equipment and medical supplies or accept contracts for materials and services to enhance our nation’s preparedness and response.
“Healthcare workers also need protective gear to do their life-saving work without risking infection to themselves. Unfortunately, there have been multiple reports of shortages of personal protective equipment, even during the opening days of this outbreak,” the senator’s letter continued. “Failure to protect our healthcare workers and support staff would cause a cascading effect that would cause our entire response to collapse.”
Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here.
March 17, 2020
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I urge you to immediately exercise the powers authorized to you by the Defense Production Act (DPA) in order to address impending shortages of critical resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After weeks of inaction, denial, and misinformation by your administration, the COVID-19 pandemic has now spread to every state in the nation, disturbing the life of virtually every American. More than 325 million Americans must now collectively hold their breath and hope that social distancing, curfews, and other extreme actions enable us to “flatten the curve” and prevent this crisis from becoming a worst-case scenario. But hope alone is not a strategy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has projected that between 160 million and 214 million people could contract COVID-19 in the United States and between 2.4 million to 21 million of those infected would require hospitalization. As a means of comparison, our hospital system has less than one million staffed beds, which would be inadequate even for the CDC’s most optimistic projection.
Hospitals must also have the resources and equipment available to treat the expected influx of patients. There is significant concern that the nation’s supply of mechanical respirators is inadequate to meet the exponential need we will likely experience in the coming weeks and months. The latest data indicates that there may only be 160,000 ventilators in the entire nation with only 62,000 of these being fully mechanical. Even if only half of those hospitalized require ventilation, our supply will be wholly inadequate to fill the demand.
Healthcare workers also need protective gear to do their life-saving work without risking infection to themselves. Unfortunately, there have been multiple reports of shortages of personal protective equipment, even during the opening days of this outbreak. Failure to protect our healthcare workers and support staff, would cause a cascading effect that would cause our entire response to collapse.
While the administration’s response has so far lacked the urgency this crisis has called for, there are still steps you can take to mitigate the damage. Invoking the powers vested in the DPA will enable the federal government to step up and take the type of aggressive steps needed in this time of uncertainty.
United States Senator
April 22, 2021