The federal government will reportedly stop giving away free COVID-19 at-home tests on Friday because congressional funding for the program has dried up.
"Ordering through this program will be suspended on Friday, September 2 because Congress hasn’t provided additional funding to replenish the nation’s stockpile of tests," the government's free test website reads.
A senior Biden administration official said that in the absence of additional funds appropriated by Congress, the government wants to preserve its stockpile of at-home tests for an expected fall coronavirus surge, NBC News reported.
"If Congress provides funding, we will expeditiously resume distribution of free tests through covidtests.gov," the official reportedly said. "Until then, we believe reserving the remaining tests for distribution later this year is the best course."
"The administration has been clear about our urgent Covid-19 response funding needs," the official added. "We have warned that congressional inaction would force unacceptable tradeoffs and harm our overall Covid-19 preparedness and response — and that the consequences would likely worsen over time."
The Biden administration rolled out its free at-home test program during the Omicron variant surge in January, promising that any American who requested a rapid test would receive one through the United States Postal Service. The Defense Department announced on Jan. 14 that iHealth Labs Inc. had been awarded a $1.275 billion federal contract to produce enough testing kits to serve up to 250 million people.
There was mild controversy surrounding the program when some people who received their free at-home tests were surprised to learn they were made in China. An administration official explained to Fox News that the government had purchased some of the FDA-approved testing kits from abroad because the United States did not have enough manufacturing capacity to produce the volume of tests needed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that Americans who have coronavirus symptoms be tested immediately. Those who test positive are encouraged to isolate and take precautions, including wearing a high-quality mask to prevent others from being exposed to infection.
While the free at-home test program has been suspended, most Americans still have the opportunity to get a free test at health centers and select pharmacies nationwide. Others may be eligible to have the cost of their tests reimbursed through Medicare or Medicaid.
In March, the White House requested an additional $22.5 billion from Congress to continue COVID-19 relief efforts, warning that the government will be "unable to sustain the testing capacity we built over the last 14 months, as we head into the second half of the year."
However, Congress has not taken action to appropriate additional coronavirus response funding.