Sep 28 2016
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Senate’s long-overdue passage of funding to fight the Zika virus. This was Rubio’s 14th Senate floor speech about Zika this year.
After a lot of work, the Senate has finally passed funding to take on Zika, the cause I've been talking about since April of this year. And I want to say in full credit to the Senate, this is actually a proposal that we passed-similar, very similar proposal the Senate passed back in May is now the one before us. I am sad that it took so long to get to this point, but at least we are here now and as I've said before, better late than never. To the people of my home state of Florida, to the people of the island of Puerto Rico who have been disproportionately impacted by the outbreak of Zika in the United States, I want to say that despite a long wait, help is finally on the way. Help is finally on the way in the form of a $1.1 billion anti-Zika package which was part of this larger law, this larger bill that passed today to keep government open beyond September 30th.
Included in the law that passed today is $15 million that's specifically targeted for states with local transmissions, and the only state so far that's had local transmissions is my home state of Florida. So today $15 million is hopefully on its way to Florida, if we can get this done in the House, to help with the fight against Zika. It also includes $60 million specifically for territories like Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has the highest number of infected American citizens with Zika. So today is good news for Puerto Rico. This took far too long, but I'm glad we're finally here.
This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and in Puerto Rico and I'm encouraged that after months of working on this, my calls for action have finally been answered and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way. I do and I have to reiterate it's shameful that it took so long and that this public health crisis was made worse by people playing political games here in Washington, D.C. And if anyone is in doubt about whether that's a partisan attack, let me tell you I think the games have come from both sides of the aisle. It took far too long for colleagues in my own party to understand the gravity and severity of this outbreak, and sad to say but the Democratic minority here in the Senate used this as a political tool for much of the month of August and even as late as yesterday. But I'm glad that these critical resources are now moving forward so that we can help thousands of Americans suffering from this virus, so that we can step up our mosquito eradication efforts and ultimately so that we can develop a vaccine that eradicates Zika for good.
And while the funding is on its way, the problem still continues. In the mainland of the United States, there are now 3,358 cases of Zika. In U.S. territories, primarily the island of Puerto Rico, there are now close to 20,000 cases. In my home state of Florida, there are now 904 cases. 109 of them were locally transmitted meaning they were not acquired abroad. They were acquired in the state. And there are 91 pregnant women in the state of Florida infected by Zika. And while Congress did nothing and while the President refused to fully spend the spending authority he had available to him for weeks, this crisis continued to grow. And the health impact of it is well understood but the economic impact has not been discussed nearly enough.
We know for a fact that there are bookings that are down on Miami Beach and my friends, that is not just an inconvenience. My parents worked in the hotel industry. That's how they raised our family, my father in particular. And if hotels are suffering because people are canceling trips because they are afraid of Zika, it is the people that work at those hotels that are most immediately impacted. We've seen restaurants and small businesses associated with visitors report back the same thing. Anecdotally I've had people come up to me over the last month and say, “Is it safe to travel to Florida, is it safe to go down there?” The answer is it is. It is safe to come to Florida but that doesn't mean we don't have a Zika problem. And it doesn't mean it doesn't need to be addressed. And local communities and the state of Florida and the island of Puerto Rico, the territory, the commonwealth has had to step forward and fund it on their own until now.
Now while this is good news that we have finally passed Zika funding in the Senate, it now has to go over to the House. And I would just urge my colleagues in the House to pass this quickly. Not just to keep the government open but to finally fund the fight against Zika and to ensure that the research that's going into developing a vaccine is not slowed down. There are other things we can do to address. I have proposed, for example, opening up the Small Business Administration loan program that is available for businesses that suffer the effects of natural disasters to also be able to avail themselves of these loans if they are suffering because of the health epidemic. And the SBA has indicated they're open to that change and I hope that is something that we’ll look at when we return in November. But suffice it to say that I want to close out here today by just telling the people of Florida that after a wait that took far too long after months of hard work and focus and bipartisan cooperation, help is finally under way – it’s on the way. Help is finally on the way in the form of $1.1 billion, including for $15 million for Florida and $60 million for the territory of Puerto Rico.