Journalists and social media users alike keyed on to a change to a government website after heavily-criticized remarks by presidential advisor Jared Kushner.
On April 2 2020, Kushner was discussing the use of the Strategic National Stockpile as part of the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic when he said:
You have instances where the cities are running out, but the state still has a stockpile. The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states stockpiles that they then use. We’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations and then fillng it with the supplies that we’ve given them.
At the time, observers noted that Kushner’s claim ran counter to the program’s description on the Department of Health and Human Services website:
Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out. When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency. Organized for scalable response to a variety of public health threats, this repository contains enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously.
The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies. Many states have products stockpiled, as well. The supplies, medicines, and devices for life-saving care contained in the stockpile can be used as a short-term stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of adequate amounts of these materials may not be immediately available.
This is what the website for the federal stockpile said yesterday vs what it says today, after Kushner was caught lying about how states aren’t supposed to be using it. It was changed to say, “Many states have products stockpiled, as well.” https://t.co/kbNXiwaJbX pic.twitter.com/xAtPKIyHnA
— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) April 3, 2020
After Jared Kushner’s comment about how the Strategic National Stockpile is not supposed to be for states, lots of people pointed to the fact that its own website says it is.
The language on the website has now been changed.
My screenshot from last night vs. one from today: pic.twitter.com/UwJFAr7uoV
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) April 3, 2020
But as the Washington Post reported, the national Health and Human Services webpage on emergency medical management for chemical hazards (which we have archived here) still retains the original description for the stockpile: “The SNS is designed to supplement and resupply state and local public health agencies in the event of a national emergency anywhere and at any time within the United States or its territories.”
The newspaper also reported:
Another part of the HHS’s website offers a similar description as the original one above:
The Strategic National Stockpile was formerly known as the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. In a description of what was then known as the NPS in 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that states couldn’t be counted on to have sufficient supplies in situations such as biological or chemical terrorism and that’s why the federal stockpile was needed.
“Few U.S. state or local governments have the resources to create sufficient pharmaceutical stockpiles on their own,” the report says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, under U.S. Congressional mandate, has developed and implemented a National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (NPS) to address this need.”</
According to the news site Politico, Health and Human Services spokesperson Katherine McKeogh claimed that the change to the website had already been planned — a claim that also ran counter to a department statement from earlier in the week.
“This is language we have been using in our messaging for weeks now,” McKeogh said. She added that the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response “first began working to update the text a week ago to more clearly explain to state and local agencies and members of the public the role of the [Strategic National Stockpile].”
An HHS spokesperson also told Politico Tuesday that the role of the stockpile “is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies, limited displacements, localized disasters and terrorist attacks.”