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Warren to feds: Why did you take Massachusetts’ medical supplies?

Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Elizabeth Warren.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Senator Elizabeth Warren is pressing federal officials for answers on why they seized at least two of Massachusetts’ recent orders for protective equipment, charging that it appears they are still interfering with states’ efforts to track down medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a five-page letter Monday, Warren asked Peter Gaynor, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, to outline how the agency is ensuring states aren’t outbid for supplies by the federal government, which she called a “new and inexplicable obstacle.”

Warren also pointed to at least two instances in which Massachusetts lost orders for ventilators and hundreds of respirators after the federal government stepped in — a situation Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human service secretary, described as: "They take what we order.

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Sudders said the Trump administration also impounded a third order of 3 million masks the state had negotiated to buy earlier in March.

“Massachusetts state officials are continuing to face federal impediments as they scramble to find essential medical equipment to respond to a public health emergency,” Warren wrote in her letter. “This is unacceptable, and I request answers on behalf of the Commonwealth.”

Warren asked Gaynor to explain why the federal government seized the two orders from Massachusetts, and to which state the supplies ultimately went, among a series of other questions in the letter.

Governor Charlie Baker has publicly vented about the roadblocks his administration has faced in tracking down personal protective equipment, including respirators, gloves, and masks. In a call with President Trump on March 19, he said the state had been outbid by the federal government on at least three separate occasions. “I’ve got a feeling that if somebody has a chance to sell to you or to me,” Baker told Trump, “I’m going to lose every one of those.”

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In her letter, Warren criticized the Trump administration for giving Massachusetts only a fraction of the medical supplies it has requested from the Strategic National Stockpile, and said that it’s her “understanding” the state also will be subject to cost-sharing requirements if it seeks more supplies after receiving a large shipment over the weekend. It was the third delivery the state has received from the stockpile.

“Our nation’s health care system badly needs more resources to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 patients,” Warren wrote. “But President Trump’s has underused, or failed to use at all, key procurement and allocation authorities available to the federal government — creating a logistical black hole in the federal COVID-19 response that has left states struggling to find key medical supplies on their own.”

Read the letter here.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout