The White House will start charging members of the press $170 to have a COVID-19 test before they can enter the grounds, according to a report, in a move that could financially cripple news organizations and limit coverage of the Biden administration altogether.
The White House press office will from Monday bill journalists for their own coronavirus tests, which are mandatory for anyone entering the White House complex.
Under the Trump administration, COVID-19 testing for the media was only available to members of the press pool who were coming into close contact with Donald Trump or to people exposed to a positive case via a White House event.
. @WhiteHouse will start charging members of the press for mandatory COVID-19 tests to cover press events - $170 each - saying it has strained the White House budget to pay for them. #press #media @AP @NBCNews @CBSNews @Reuters @FoxNews @MSNBC @ABC - reaction? pic.twitter.com/Nh6SgoftVI— TweetingButler (@TweetingButler) February 27, 2021
These tests were paid for by the White House however testing was not available to journalists attending press conferences in the briefing room or entering the grounds for other White House events.
Several members of the media were exposed to the virus during Trump's tenure, including at least three journalists who tested positive in the wake of the Rose Garden 'superspreader' event after which then-president Trump was admitted to hospital with the virus.
As soon as Joe Biden took office in January, his administration introduced mandatory COVID-19 rapid testing for all journalists each morning before they can enter the White House campus, as well as a requirement to wear surgical face masks and practice social distancing.
The White House has been footing the bill for the testing since it was made mandatory in January but it now plans to charge the media $170 per test starting March 1, according to the Washington Post.
It has also agreed to accept proof of a negative test taken outside the grounds following backlash over the initial plan to only permit on-site testing.
However it is not clear what outside tests will be permitted with some private tests also costing up to around $200 a go.
The Biden administration will continue to cover the costs of testing for members of the press pool.
White House officials said paying for the tests has put a strain on the Oval Office budget meaning the cost going forward needs to be footed by news organizations.
Crazy— Thomas Connors welcome to the animal farm you know (@ThomasConnors) February 28, 2021
White House will start charging members of the press $170 to have a COVID-19 test EVERY time they enter the grounds - in a move that could cripple smaller news organizationshttps://t.co/PYRH4JbtBO
However, with journalists not permitted to enter the White House grounds without a negative test, the new rule may simply mean some members of the press being excluded from briefings altogether.
The White House Correspondents' Association, which represents members of the media covering the White House, warned it is financially impractical for the news industry to foot the bill and that many organizations will not have the budget to afford it.
'It sets up a means test for White House coverage,' one member told the Post.
Another journalist compared the charges to paying for other health and safety measures at the White House such as security barriers.
Small media organizations could be especially hard hit due to their already limited budgets, meaning they will no longer be able to attend and provide coverage of White House events.
But, large organizations will also feel the squeeze as some networks send around eight people at a time to film and report on the White House goings-ons, which would add up to a staggering $1,360 per day in fees.
The media has long been charged by the White House for the privilege of reporting on presidents and their official business, with journalists already billed for meals and to travel on Air Force One as part of the pool.
No other federal agency currently charges journalists for testing.
The new fees come at a time when many media organizations are already struggling financially with hundreds of journalists across the industry laid off in 2020 due to the pandemic.
DailyMail.com has reached out to the White House and the White House Correspondents' Association for comment.
In January, the Biden administration said journalists must take an Abbott rapid COVID-19 test at the White House Conference Center each morning if they want to enter the grounds.
If they receive a negative test result they are given a wristband to wear to enter.
This also limited the number of press on White House grounds to 80, with up to 40 indoors.
Other new requirements included that reporters must wear new surgical masks - not neck gaiters, bandannas and masks with valves - and maintain at least six foot distance from others.
Anyone disobeying any of the rules faces penalties including a warning for a first violation and a one-week ban for a second violation.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.