The Obama administration on Tuesday pushed back against questions of why it wasn't ready to spend $1.1 billion in funding given by Congress last month to fight the Zika virus.
Administration officials said it is providing every state and four cities and some territories $44.25 million in emergency dollars this week to fight the virus. Officials also detailed a plan to spend the remaining $1.1 billion in supplemental funding.
Of the $44.25 million being released this week, $2.7 million is being sent to Florida, which has had all of the country's 128 mosquito-spread cases, the primary mode of transmission. The other 3,800 cases in the United States are people who traveled to islands and countries where Zika is spreading.
Some of the funding will go toward learning how Zika affects pregnancies and for new technology to better detect the virus. Proposals on how to spend that money from outside groups and government agencies are due in the middle of November. The virus has been found to cause birth defects, including microcephaly, which leaves babies with underdeveloped brains and abnormally small heads.
Officials said they couldn't provide the money immediately to states and localities to fight the virus, which is spread primarily via mosquito bites.
"There is a process for being able to spend money within the federal level within guidelines," said Kevin Griffis, assistant secretary for public affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services on a call with reporters.
The response comes after months of top administration officials sounding the alarm that Zika priorities such as a vaccine or staffing would be in jeopardy if Congress didn't approve funding.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it can provide funding to localities based only on federal grant guidelines.
"We don't have the authority to spread checks without going through a process for allowing competition for that," said Sherri Berger, CDC's chief operating officer.
President Obama initially sought $1.9 billion from Congress in February. However, disagreements over the amount and whether any money should go to Planned Parenthood clinics in hard-hit Puerto Rico meant that funding wasn't approved until September as part of a short-term spending deal.
The CDC also responded to questions about whether it had any spending plan at all, since it was known for months that Congress was considering spending $1.1 billion and not $1.9 billion as originally proposed.
"We do have a spending plan, but the spending [in the plan] exceeded what was made through the supplemental," Berger said. "We are waiting for the final funding level to post those opportunities for state funding."
The administration didn't elaborate on how much was in its initial spending plan and what it received instead from Congress.
Members of Congress have criticized the administration for not fully spending more than $500 million that was reallocated in April from programs fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
In May, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked why the administration had not fully spent the funding. The CDC responded that it still needs money to go through normal government channels.