Trump's HHS diverting funds from NIH, CDC to pay for increased number of migrant children

Trump's HHS diverting funds from NIH, CDC to pay for increased number of migrant children
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reallocating more than $260 million in funds this year to house the increased number of detained migrant children.

According to a letter from HHS Secretary Alex Azar obtained by The Hill and first reported by Yahoo News, nearly $80 million of that funding will be diverted from other refugee support programs, leaving more than $180 million coming from other programs within the department

Those diversions include $13 million from the National Cancer Institute, $5.7 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and millions from programs within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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The report, which deals with funding for the current fiscal year ending at the end of this month, comes amid heightened scrutiny over the Trump administration’s handling of immigrant families and children.

The New York Times reported last week that the number of detained migrant children in the U.S. has skyrocketed under President Trump, from 2,400 in May 2017 to a record-high 12,800 earlier this month. Yahoo News, citing data from HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, reported that there were 13,312 migrant children in federal custody as of Wednesday. 

Democratic senators have expressed concerns that the need for additional funding for the Unaccompanied Alien Children program has been driven by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, which saw the separation of thousands of migrant families at the border earlier this year.

HHS also confirmed last week that it was keeping open a “tent city” shelter for migrant children that was originally slated to close in July. The agency said that the need for the shelter’s continuation was not due to the family separations, but because of more children crossing the border alone.

According to data, there has not been a significant increase in immigrant children being taken into custody, but children are spending more time in custody before being released to a family member or sponsor in the U.S.

Immigration advocates have long expressed concerns that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants has created an atmosphere where many potential sponsors may be deterred from taking in migrant children.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement to The Hill that the department’s reallocation of funds is within Azar’s authority, and that the money will be used to deal with “increases in caseloads and unexpected surges in children needing care from our program.”

“Unfortunately, the need for additional funds has grown since FY 2011, due to the continual increase of unaccompanied alien children at the border,” Hargan said. “These transfers are only a temporary solution to the sad consequence of a broken immigration system.”

HHS told The Hill that, to date, the only funds that have been reallocated this fiscal year are $17 million in unspent funds from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.

The department added that it has the authority to increase appropriations for the Office of Refugee Resettlement by up to 10 percent, and that the Unaccompanied Alien Children program also saw increased funding in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017.

Nathaniel Weixel conributed to this report which was updated at 11:19 a.m.