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Schumer, Gillibrand announce legislation to federalize medical supply chain, increase production

New York's two representatives in the United States Senate announced Tuesday a proposed bill that, if passed, would utilize the Defense Production Act to designate and put in charge an expert who would oversee the nation's distribution of medical supplies related to COVID-19. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand say slow action by the White House has made it necessary to pursue what is called the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act.

Under the bill, which is sponsored by dozens of Senators, the Trump Administration would pick a civilian Executive Officer for Critical Medical Equipment and Supplies to direct distribution of personal protective equipment. The president, with power authorized by the DPA, would ensure that such distribution to states is carried out as needed.

Democrats backing the bill say the White House has not fully utilized the power of the federal government, which has left hospitals and health care workers shorted in many places.

“This has forced our frontline healthcare workers, hospitals and governments to go on a scavenger hunt for the equipment they need to stay safe," said Schumer in a prepared statement. "This is unacceptable, and the administration needs to step up to the plate and implement a strong national strategy that supports our heroic healthcare workers and that establishes a real testing system.”

Additionally, the appointed officer would assess and report on inventory in the Strategic National Stockpile, as well as the projected gap between quantities needed and quantities available. This individual would also be tasked with identifying manufacturers who could make more, as needed.

“Suppliers have abused President Trump’s lack of transparency and leadership to raise prices on scarce equipment, leaving states to bid against one another,” said Senator Gillibrand in a prepared statement. “The notion that some states have greater access to the federal stockpile than others is deeply disturbing. This administration must be held accountable. We must federalize our health care supply chain to establish a direct and transparent path for distribution as we continue to combat COVID-19.”

Congressman Tom Reed, a Corning-based Republican, was asked about the bill during his weekly conference call Tuesday. He stated his support for securing the nation's medical supply chain but he does not like the idea of putting the oversight into the hands of one authority figure.

"I think you need a coalition of public-private partnership on this, where you have the private sector represented, you have the states represented, and you have the federal government represented in that oversight role," Reed said. "I'm more about having that diverse perspective offered into the equation, but I am supportive of making sure that our medical supply chains are fully intact, and protected as we go through reopening the country."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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