Former Pa. Gov. candidate Paul Mango at center of Trump effort to block extra funding for vaccine rollout | Coronavirus | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Former Pa. Gov. candidate Paul Mango at center of Trump effort to block extra funding for vaccine rollout

click to enlarge Paul Mango - PHOTO: BALLOTPEDIA
Photo: Ballotpedia
Paul Mango
After an unsuccessful run for Pennsylvania governor that ended with the 2018 Republican primary, Pittsburgh-area business consultant Paul Mango joined the administration of then-President Donald Trump. Mango, a Gibsonia resident and Republican, joined the Department of Health and Human Services and was even promoted a year later.

Now, as revealed by health news site Stat, Mango’s role in the Trump administration has shown to have some serious consequences for the country’s vaccine rollout.

The Trump administration actively lobbied Congress to deny state governments any extra funding for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout last fall, even as states were requesting more funding and saying that they couldn’t properly roll out the vaccine without it. Mango led that lobbying effort, rationalizing that withholding funds was due to states’ inability to use the money by October of 2020 to distribute the vaccine, even though distribution didn’t begin until December.

“A lot of them had shut down their economies and they weren’t getting tax revenue,” Mango told Stat. “I’m sure they could use money — that’s not in dispute — what’s in dispute is whether they needed money given all they hadn’t used to actually administer vaccines.”

As Stat journalist Nicholas Florko pointed out on Twitter, Mango’s admission was basically an accusation that states actually wanted the funding to make up for lost tax revenue caused by coronavirus shutdowns.

This rationale is old hat for Mango, who ran for governor on pro-growth policies that were almost exclusive about reducing government spending.

“Our citizens have grown tired of bloated, out of control government seemingly having no concept of how the real world functions,” wrote Mango in a policy paper released during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. “We will create a modern government that is less costly, less centralized, less bureaucratic, and more responsive.”

This is pretty common language for Republicans, especially those in Pennsylvania, but a bit ironic in retrospect. After withholding of extra vaccine funding, many states, including Pennsylvania, have had very slow rollouts of the vaccine. States have rationed the funding without the guarantee that more was on the way, and the U.S. woefully missed Trump’s target of 20 million vaccines by the end of December. Under the Trump administration, only about 2.6 million vaccines were distributed by the end of December.

Mango, who has more than 20 years experience in health care consulting at McKinsey, went even further and accused the CDC of also requesting money it didn’t need, saying the CDC head was “lobbying Congress for money behind [the Trump administration's] back,” according to Stat.

“I call it the mutual-admiration society — they were trying to help their friends at the state public health offices even though they didn’t have any real plan to spend the money,” Mango said to Stat.

Any accusations of misusing federal funds related to the pandemic should probably be lobbed at Republicans, not Democrats, at least concerning Mango’s home state of Pennsylvania.

In December 2020, the Republican-controlled state senate failed to advance a fix to the state’s rent and mortgage assistance program, which was intended to help people pay for housing if the pandemic caused them economic hardship. Instead of using federal funds on that program, Republicans decided to direct the unspent $108 million in federal funds to the state's Department of Corrections, which has facilities located primarily in rural, conservative districts.

In the end, health officials believed the lack of extra funding likely hampered states’ ability to properly and quickly distribute the coronavirus vaccine. In a Dec. 4 letter, the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials wrote to Trump’s Surgeon General that lobbying efforts by Mango and others was “extremely unfortunate.”

“We believe that it is neither a partisan nor political statement to share the very obvious fact that the vaccination of 330,000,000 Americans safely and effectively will take far more than the $340 million currently allocated to local, state, and territorial governmental public health agencies,” read the letter from ASTHO.

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